Friday, August 20, 2021

The Foundations of Phlan: Revisiting Pool of Radiance (1988), Part 1

 
The opening graphic from the Amiga version, which I initially attempted to play.
         
The only really bad thing about Pool of Radiance, the landmark game from SSI that launched the "Gold Box" series (my 2011 coverage begins here), is its name. It evokes nothing that you'd want to evoke in a fantasy RPG: dungeons, dragons, swords, magic, treasure, or adventure. The titular pool is a very minor part of the story, not interesting, and not well explained.
   
Even worse, the title makes no sense from a marketing perspective. The same story, NPCs, and encounters that went into Pool of Radiance were also used for the tabletop module Ruins of Adventure, which hit the shelves about two months later than Pool. Why would the two companies not use the same name for both module and computer game? Ruins of Adventure fits the plot so much better than going all-in on the silly pool.
     
It did, however, make sense for TSR to supply the writers for its first proper foray into computer gaming (Mattel had licensed the D&D name for 1982's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge and 1983's Treasure of Tarmin, but neither game had anything to do with D&D or its rules). From the perspective of a tabletop RPG maker, probably the worst thing about these new "computer RPGs" was their plots. Computer RPG authors knew how to program the mechanics of character creation and combat, but they had shown repeatedly (with a few exceptions, of course) that they hadn't been able to replicate the experience of playing a D&D module, with proper attention to the backstory and developing narrative, NPCs, sub-quests and side quests, and encounter design. 
   
The rights to the D&D license reportedly came down to a fierce battle between Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) and Electronic Arts (EA). EA's pitch was based primarily on its prestige and market reach, as it had no particular expertise in RPG design or even wargaming design. The company's only RPG efforts to that date were in publishing games created by other studios (e.g., The Bard's Tale, Starflight) or by independent auteurs like Stuart Smith (Adventure Construction Set) and Chuck Dougherty (Legacy of the Ancients). SSI, in contrast, had shown that its staff--including such luminaries as Charles J. Kroegel Jr., Jeffrey A. Johnson, Paul Murray, and Keith Brors--could program the hell out of combat and character development in games like Wizard's Crown and The Eternal Dagger plus dozens of wargaming titles. To me, the choice would have been obvious.
  
But I wouldn't necessarily have trusted SSI with the plot, and neither apparently did TSR, which leads us to the involvement of TSR designers Michael Breault, David "Zeb" Cook, James M. Ward, and Steve Winter. This team, working out of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, collaborated remotely with SSI in Mountain View, California, on all the game's content--the same content that went into Ruins of Adventure. In researching the relationship between the computer game and the module, I found roughly a billion web sites that claim Pool was based on Ruins, the source apparently being an editor's throw-away comment in the letters section of a 1990 Dragon magazine issue. In an e-mail conversation, however, Michael Breault related the opposite: The material was designed for the computer game first. Ruins of Adventure was an afterthought, published months after Pool, a way for TSR to make some extra money with the same basic material. The tabletop module mentions Pools repeatedly; the idea was that the module would serve as a companion to the game. Because SSI didn't know of the concurrent development of the tabletop module, the manual for Pool says nothing about Ruins, but the later cluebook does.
   
The tabletop module based on the computer game--not the other way around.
      
Ever since I played Pool of Radiance in 2011, I have lauded it as one of the best CRPGs in history. It currently occupies my number three spot, behind Ultima V and Ultima VI. I regard it as the best of the Gold Box games--not in graphics and sound, of course, and later games would make incremental interface improvements. But in a dozen more games using this engine, SSI never exceeds Pool in quality of writing, depth of encounter design, use of NPCs, availability of side quests, and choice of role-playing options. In making this argument for the last decade, I have repeatedly overlooked the obvious reason: Pool was one of only two games in the series whose content was written by professional RPG authors. The other is, not coincidentally, the Gold Box game I rated second-highest: Curse of the Azure Bonds. (The story was by TSR designers Jeff Grubb and George MacDonald, based on Grubb's previous 1988 novel.) After Curse, TSR stopped participating directly in the development of the computer games, and further content was developed in-house at SSI. The plots and backstories remain fine, but the games start feeling less like modules. NPC companions become temporary and scripted, other NPCs become less interesting (or based on other media), the concept of side quests vanishes, and encounters offer fewer role-playing choices. It's still an excellent series of games, of course, but it never really improves.
      
Commenters alerted me to the existence of Ruins of Adventure while I was playing Pool of Radiance. I found the existence of a tabletop module mildly interesting, I suppose, but I largely dismissed it from mind. Back then, I wasn't as interested in the development process, or the personalities involved, and my entries are the poorer for it. Playing Pool of Radiance with a copy of Ruins of Adventure at my side is an unmitigated joy. It spoils the game--the module could be used as a cluebook, frankly--but it's fantastic for a replay, deepening the player's understanding of the setting and NPCs.
     
This treasure isn't in the module. Nothing that happens in the slums is in the module.
      
I had started this entry purely to write about the module and its relation to the computer game, but I couldn't think of a good way to do it without simply replaying the game. This is the first time I've completely revisited a game that I've previously covered from beginning to end. (Previous "Revisiting" entries have all been about winning games I didn't win the first time.) So let me get a few ground rules out of the way. First, I'm not interested in revisiting the GIMLET for Pool of Radiance; this series of entries will be unrated. Second, my primary focus is on how the computer game relates to the module, so I won't be revisiting all of the mechanics of Pool. Third, and most important, these entries do not mean that you can look forward to replays of other previously-covered games, no matter how inadequately you think I covered them. This is a lark, not a precedent.
    
For a slightly new experience, I wanted to play a different version. But since GOG started selling the game, it's tough to find even non-DOS versions on the usual sites. I messed with an Amiga version for a while but it wouldn't recognize any disk as the save disk. Ultimately, I gave up and went back to the DOS version, deciding to focus on a different character experience rather than a different technological experience. Since I wasn't planning to move on to Curse and the later games, I didn't have to be overly worried about racial caps, which meant I could explore more multi-classing options. I briefly toyed with making an ultra-challenging party, like all fighters or all thieves, but to keep the series short, I decided to play with a party that would initially be a challenge but later be unstoppable: six multi-classed mages. I didn't remember that Pool had as many racial restrictions as it does. Only elves, half-elves, and humans can be mages, and only humans and half-elves can be clerics. To implement my "all multi-classed mage" plan, I had to create a party entirely of half-elves. I could have used elves for the fighter/magic-users, but they're allowed one less fighter level than half-elves, so there was no point.
   
  • Foberon, a lawful good male half-elf fighter/magic user
  • Galadreish, a chaotic good female half-elf fighter/magic-user
  • Demibrimbor, a neutral good male half-elf  fighter/cleric/magic-user
  • Quasiel, a lawful neutral female half-elf fighter/cleric/magic-user
  • Halfdir, a chaotic neutral male half-elf magic-user/thief
  • Sudolas, a neutral evil male half-elf cleric/magic-user
             
I had no patience for the icons this time around. I just randomized the colors.
   
The module is generally more detailed than the game, but one exception is in the backstory. The adventurer's journal for the game covers hundreds of years of history, while the module covers only the last 50 years, during which the latest attempt to rebuild Phlan was defeated by an army of orcs led by a dragon. The module makes it explicit that this dragon was Tyranthraxus, and he's been "ruling" Phlan from Valjevo Castle the entire interim. Maybe we were supposed to get that impression from the game, but I never quite extrapolated it.
    
The module lays bare Tyranthraxus's plans and Porphyrys Cadorna's machinations, something that the game only does through notes, letters, and encounters that you have to piece together. Seeing the way the module describes it makes me even more impressed with the game. The backstory is that Tyranthraxus, a demonic entity from an unknown plane, tricked a bronze dragon named Srossar into bathing in the Pool of Radiance. This allowed Tyranthraxus to possess the dragon. It turns out that all of the good things the players hear about the Pool of Radiance conferring blessings or power is simply a misinformation campaign on Tyranthraxus's part to trick powerful entities into bathing in it so he can possess them. The Pool was never anything more than a gate to Tyranthraxus's home plane. It makes so much more sense now. 
      
In the module, you can go up on the stockade wall, which is always patrolled by teams of four watchmen. If you attack one, they'll raise the alarm and up to 52 more guards will show up. The module requires a pass from the Council to go through this portal, which is closed at night.
    
Tyranthraxus ultimately wants to cross the Moonsea and conquer the kingdoms to the south, but the orcs and goblins and such that he's chosen to lead are fickle creatures and tough to keep organized. He allows the human resettlement of Phlan in hopes that he can find more effective servants among the humans, but he naturally becomes alarmed at the party's growing success. The module has him far more proactive than the game's Tyranthraxus, seeding the populace of Phlan with his own agents and informants, many of whom try to lead the party astray.
     
Porphyrys Cadorna is presented in the module not as an ally of Tyranthraxus but an opportunist. He initially employs the party (via Sasha, the clerk) to seek information about Tyranthraxus for his own purposes. He wants to oust the demon as much as the players do, but so he can claim wealth and items of power. The module posits a couple of pivotal stages for Cadorna that I'll cover as I reach them.
     
The module makes it clear that Cadorna is behind this quest.
     
The module offers nothing about how the party gets to Phlan. Rolf, the NPC who greets the party at the docks in Pool and gives them a tour, appears nowhere in Ruins, not even within the long list of stock NPCs. The creators didn't even create a map for the civilized section of Phlan, instead telling the DM to make up his own layout. There are complex rules about what happens in abandoned buildings, in occupied housing, and along the stockade wall that don't appear in the computer game. Neither do rules about crime and punishment; the CRPG lacks the module's jail, for which one of the only ways to get out is to pull a Suicide Squad and offer to do missions for the Council for free. (If you commit crimes in the CRPG, guards just show up and try to kill you.) Facilities are also notably different. Both products show three inns in Phlan, but the module names them--The Cracked Crown, Nate Wyler's Bell, and The Bitter Blade--and gives them each a unique character, while those in the computer game are generic. The module also names several shops that are interchangeable in the CRPG. Finally, the module posits an outdoor marketplace in which a chandler, a wine-seller, a proselytizer, and a map maker offer services. 
       
This guy has no module counterpart.
       
Where the CRPG has three temples--one each to Tyr, Sune, and Tempus--the module has only one generic one. There is no training facility in the module (I don't even know how the tabletop game handles training and leveling) and thus no place where generic hirelings can join the party. On the other hand, there are a lot of named hirelings in the module that the party can meet under various circumstances. For instance:
        
Onyx is an 8th-level half-elf fighter. He is huge and strong and uses a giant magical axe in battle. He works for any neutral or lawful that pays him the most and joins the party for a starting fee of 500 g.p. There is a 50% chance when dealing with other neutrals and lawfuls that these parties will offer Onyx more money to work for them. At these times, Onyx gives the party a choice of matching the offer or letting him go. The offer is always double what the last offer was.
     
The CRPG notes that the river to the north is poisonous; the module gives a lot more detail, including the fact that orcs on the opposite banks will fire occasional shots at anyone visible on the civilized side.
    
Not just poisonous but "reeking and poisonous." It utterly prevents boat traffic up the river. "On some days, the view across the river is blocked by sickening mists and foul vapors that rise and writhe across its surface."
    
Both the module and the CRPG have a series of random rumors the party might encounter (in the computer game, only in taverns), but the specific text is very different. There are 12 in the module, half true, while the adventurer's journal lists 23, although some might be red herrings that never appear in the game. I think the computer game's versions are better, frankly, often discussing things happening in the wilderness around Phlan while the module's rumors are confined to the city.
   
As usual, I began the game in the generic armory, buying weapons from a list that the module leaves up to other rulebooks. It offers two smiths, Matteo and Georg. Georg has everything, but it's substandard; his weapons break on any roll of 1. Matteo offers better stuff, but you have to order it, pay 1.5 times the price of the usual item, and wait 1-3 weeks. The CRPG has no difference in quality among the armorers and doesn't implement any rules associated with weapon or armor condition and breakage. The CRPG also didn't implement rules about multi-classed characters using weapons and armor. A fighter/magic-user can cast wearing anything he likes, and my fighter/cleric/magic-users can use bladed weapons. But there are weirder rules, like my cleric/magic-user can use a mace but not a morning star and my thief/magic-user can wear leather armor but not studded leather. My thief/magic-user cannot use a bow, even a short bow, and my cleric/magic-user cannot use a sling.
      
I'm still waiting for a D&D game to offer a ranseur +2 or a Spetum of Frost.
       
I memorized spells. More oddities that have nothing to do with the module: Clerics start with three Level 1 spells, but mages only start with one. None of my mages got "Magic Missile" by default, meaning that they're all going to be casting "Sleep" in their first few combats. Still, having six "Sleep" spells ready is nothing to laugh at. 
   
The two products agree in how the party gets missions: they're posted outside the Council Hall. In the game, however, guards block the players from visiting any of the council members at the beginning, whereas tabletop players can theoretically see them. I'll talk more about the council members later. My game started with three proclamations about Valhingen Graveyard and one about reclaiming the slums. The module doesn't give any specific order for the missions presented by the Council, except in general terms at the beginning of each section, and for some reason the sections aren't listed in any logical order. The slums is the third listed, after Sokol Keep and the Mansions district, but the introduction says that the slums should probably be the first map attempted by the new party. 
      
Oddly, the quests posted outside don't always match what Sasha gives you inside.
      
The module's account of the slums is pretty lame. The area takes up only half a page of the book, and there are no fixed encounters listed. The background says that "some of the braver, more pioneering souls have already begun rebuilding homes and shops" in the area, but it doesn't say anything about Ohlo, the Old Hemp Market, the Rope Guild, the fortuneteller, or--most important--the tavern where the trolls are tossing around a sack. I was looking forward to that one. Instead, the module just refers the DM to a random encounter chart which has generic orc, goblin, hobgoblin, gnoll, kobold, and ogre parties, as well as some minor treasures. The maps are also entirely different.
     
My map of the slums (left) versus the module's (right).
    
I thus cleared out the slums without having anything new to reference in the module. It was what I remembered: one of the best introductory locations in CRPG history. It's got a nice mix of random and fixed encounters, all tailored to the location, some places in which spending a little time searching leads to some extra reward, and a couple of fun side quests. I found most of the enemies surprisingly easy. With six characters capable of casting "Sleep," I could neutralize a good portion of the orc, kobold, and hobgoblin forces in the area, and resting to restore the spell was easier than I remembered. My party slowly replaced its starting equipment with +1 gear.
   
The troll battle was as memorable as always. After a few failures, I won by a) using "Sleep" to freeze the ogres in place and thus prevent all but one troll from striking in melee range; b) using the "Fireball" spell on a scroll I'd found; and c) reducing the trolls' remaining hit points with arrows and flasks of oil. Once there are only two trolls left, they flee to the corner. After that, you can take your time killing them as long as you position party members on the squares where the other trolls previously stood, so they can't regenerate and get back up.
       
With my "ogre buffer," I just have to take out the one troll in melee and then use missiles on the others.
       
The experience from the area was enough to get most of my multi-classed characters at least a couple of levels. Obviously, the ones with three classes are lagging behind the others. Sasha rewarded us for clearing out the first block and gave us the Sokal Keep and Podol Place quests. Fortunately, from here on, there's lots of module fodder to look at. I'll try Sokal Keep first.
     
Selecting "Enlarge" as my next mage spell.
    
I'll probably have entries in this limited series every couple of weeks, so don't look for the next one very soon. Since I'm very early into the game, I'm willing to try a different version if anyone has disk images and configurations that you know for sure work.
 

119 comments:

  1. Will you read the novel as well? I tried to, but as much as I probably would have loved it around 1990, it was underwhelming in 2017...

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    1. I agree. I bought the trilogy and read a considerable part of first book. Then I decided to read Crpgaddict's POR entries twice instead of continuing that ridiculous occurances that is called a novel.
      Even the first chapter begins with one of heroes gaining godlike powers via deus ex machine type insane artifacts.

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    2. I mean, the book came out a year after the game. While clearly based on it, the conventions necessary in writing a novel must have led to major changes from the source material. It's hard to see them as "companions" the way the computer game and module are. Maybe if I have an unexpected amount of time.

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    3. I'm ashamed to admit I spent money on the Baldur's Gate novelization. It was...an experience, to be sure, but so is vomiting.

      The golden standard for video game novelization is still DOOM: Knee Deep in the Dead. The first Resident Evil book is pretty good too. In both books' cases their follow-up novels are lackluster.

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    4. It's been many years... but I really enjoyed the Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends. After that... it was a very mixed bag indeed. I never really made it that far into the Forgotten Realms books. The dreck quotient was just super high.

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    5. The best novel to a cRPG ist the novelization of Planescape:Torment. It uses the awesome text from the game with just a little bit of prose to a great read: http://www.wischik.com/lu/senses/pst-book.html
      I'm not look connected to the writer in any way ...

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  2. "But there are weirder rules, like my cleric/magic-user can use a mace but not a morning star and my thief/magic-user can wear leather armor but not studded leather."

    Weird by the expectations of later games, yes, but not about the multiclass: Pool of Radiance considers a morningstar an edged weapon (not available to clerics by default) and leather (not studded leather) the heaviest armor the thief class grants access to (meaning that studded leather has no true justification for existing).

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    1. I love how the justification for clerics to not use bladed weapons is their prohibition to draw blood, so clubs and maces and war-hammers are fine.

      ...like, did no one know what blunt force trauma looks like? Bladed weapons are merciful in comparison.

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    2. There was a good Dragon magazine article back in the mists of time discussing the need to tailor clerical weapon options to the deity. Thus clerics of Artemis could use bows, etc.

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    3. A friend told me years ago that the "clerics use blunt weapons" thing came from the epic medieval poem The Song of Roland. Apparently there's a priest character there that vowed never to shed blood, so he took a mace into battle as a way to work around the vow. I haven't read the poem, so I don't know how accurate this is, or if the connection to D&D is true. I'm sure someone here knows.

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    4. The game seems to do a pretty good job of adhering to the 1E AD&D rules here.

      The weapon and armor restrictions on multi-class characters are listed in each race's description in the Player's Handbook. Specifically for half-elves, it says "half-elven characters who choose the cleric as one of their multi-classes aren’t limited by that class’ proscriptions upon weapons usable, but they are quite restricted in level. Half-elven characters who choose the thief class as one of their multi-roles are limited to the weaponry and armor of that class when operating as a thief."

      -It doesn't talk about half-elves casing M-U spells in armor, but specifically permits elves to do so. Most people infer that half-elves can also. Those are the only two races where that combo is possible. Therefore the game gets this rule correct.

      -F/C/M-U using bladed weapons is also correct.

      -The Pool of Radiance Adventurer's Journal on page 38 shows morning star and all types of bows as fighter-only, and slings as fighter or thief only. These do adhere to the 1E AD&D rules. This explains the restrictions you listed for your C/M-U and T/M=U. In later gold box games, staff-slings become available to clerics. Starting in the Unearthed Arcana supplement, thieves are permitted to use short bows. The rule for cleric weapons in the PHB is "forbidden to use edged and/or pointed weapons which shed blood," and morning stars have spikes. It would have helped if there was an "allowed weapon by class" chart in the book, because this is sometimes a point of debate (pun intended).

      -Thieves are limited to leather armor, per both sources. While this seems like maybe it should included studded leather, it is not generally interpreted that way. Unearthed Arcana did allow thieves to wear studded leather, but with penalties. So your T/M-U armor limitation is correct.

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    5. The standard argument for thieves and armor is that leather armor is shaped then boiled in oil, thus it's rigid and fits around the torso. Studded leather is standard leather with metal studs in it, which rests on the shoulders (much like chain mail), thus hindering movement. Studded leather not moving quite correctly (without training) with the wearer like leather armor would, plus often having padding which adds to the weight. While also having metal studs that can bang against something at the wrong moment, making noise.

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    6. I also thought it was silly in D&D that poison was incontrovertibly evil -- so it was fine to shoot acid arrows into enemies' faces, burn them alive with fireballs, cut them and stab them, blind them with magic and then kill them, or paralyze them and then kill them. But if you tip your arrow with poison now you're evil.

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    7. Same goes for chemical weapons IRL. Colonel Kurtz was right. Pilots are allowed to drop napalm on children but it's obscene to write f*@k on those very same bombs.

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    8. I remember looking up the "clerics can't spill blood" thing a while back, and apparently it comes from the Bayeux Tapestry depicting Bishop Odo fighting with a rod. Evidently he took an extremely literal interpretation of "he who lives by the sword".

      The difference between leather and "studded leather" is a gameplay distinction. The "studs" in real life leather breastplates are just rivets holding the whole thing together. Presumably a young Gary Gygax saw a picture of riveted leather armour in a book and misinterpreted. Or maybe he just thought there needed to be an intermediate weight class, who knows. I think maybe the kind of leather thieves wear is supposed to be soft and unboiled, like a set of motorcycle leathers. That would be awfully creaky though.

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    9. The tapestry of Bayeux may have inspired someone to create the "priests don't use sword" rule, but it was certainly not a common rule in medieval Europe. Bishops and other high clergymen often were the youngest sons of local nobility, and as such trained to use sword and other weapons. Sometimes bishops combined religious and worldly leadership, and such men could be depicted holding both religious symbols and a sword as symbol of their power.

      In the song of Roland, Archbishop Turpin wielded the sword "Almace". I think the song is too obscure to be a true reference, but perhaps something of that name stuck, and helped in creating the idea that priests use "a mace". Entirely speculative of course, that last part...

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    10. If I'm thieving I dont want to add any weight to my arms.

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    11. Well, a lot of people have pointed to textual sources for what I consider some of the odder restrictions. I guess the question then becomes why did SSI drop or modify most of them in subsequent games?

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    12. If I had to guess, adoption of some rules from 2nd Edition AD&D would be the primary reason. It came out in 1989.

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  3. I enjoyed your coverage of the game when you first posted it, and I'm excited to read this revisit. Have you considered stepping outside of the chronological order you've set for yourself occasionally to play through more "modern" games in a similar manner? One of the Infinity Engine games, for example, or Wasteland, Fallout or even one of the more recent "indie" games that to some extent emulate the old Gold Box formula like Knights of the Chalice?

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    1. I've considered it, but I haven't been able to come up with a plan I like. It's on my list to reconsider it after I catch up on the 1980s games (again).

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    2. I bought Knights of the Chalice years ago...and never got past the first battle. I feel like I should've stuck with it, but I just put the game aside and never tried it again. Pretty sure I have the installer somewhere in OneDrive...

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    3. 'Knights of the Chalice' while pretty cool in and of itself (shout outs to Pierre) is the kind of game that requires you to find the arrow of dragon slaying and keep it for just the right moment ;)

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  4. The slums map from the module is really interesting in that it looks so much more like a CRPG map than anything I've previously seen from TSR. They usually tried for a bit more simulationist/realism than what you see there.

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  5. For someone who claims to dislike jokey Tolkien references in his CRPGs your half-elf name puns are all really funny. "Demibrimbor" lol

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    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousAugust 20, 2021 at 6:57 PM

      Given Chet's ambivalence towards all things Tolkien, it was too much to hope for that he would use the name of the most famous half-elf of all: Elrond!

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    2. I feel like maybe he avoided Elrond because he's already a half-elf and the joke wouldn't work with him?

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    3. I tried to use Failrond as my character in Ultima I... but he never won.

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    4. Those names are great! Galadreish is my favorite.

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    5. I had no idea that Elrond was half-elf. I just tried to think of good portmanteaus, and nothing occurred to me with "Elrond."

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    6. Elwrong (I can't take credit, it's from perhaps the greatest ever d&d forum session reports The Fellowship of the Bling https://forum.rpg.net/index.php?threads/b-x-misadventures-in-randomly-generated-dungeons.676099/ )

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  6. Oh, this will be fun to follow! I revisited your first PoR playthrough a few times since it was a joy to read.

    Clerics in AD&D got bonus spells per day based on having high Wisdom, whereas Magic-Users did not. It was a "freebie" to give low-level parties more healing resources in my opinion. (In Basic D&D at the time, 1st-level clerics didn't have any spells!)

    That was mighty presumptuous of that letter writer to assume that the module came first. Any glance at the module's maps strongly suggest that it wasn't first, since they are all "CRPG sized."

    I believe the tabletop AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide gave rules for training. The CRPG implements the base cost for training, but not the other rules that use up time and make it possibly more expensive and lengthy.

    I'm surprised the slums were so sparse in the module. Not very helpful for dungeon masters!

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    1. It's amazing to me how many citations go back to that letter. Even at the time, I would have read it and thought, "Hmm...that doesn't seem right."

      I'd edit the Wikipedia page, but because I got that information from direct communication with Mike Breault, the only source I can point it to is my own blog, and I don't think that's kosher by Wikpedia's rules.

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    2. So what you're saying is that I should edit the Wikipedia entry?

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  7. As a kid, I came at these games in the wrong direction -- starting with Curse of the Azure Bonds, and specifically, starting with the TSR novels and then getting a chance to play the games.

    Not that this CRPG-to-module comparison isn't unprecedented and fascinating, but it might also be interesting to measure up how the different versions compare to the novelization. I never imagined at the time that of all these flavours of POR, the CRPG had primacy!

    An enterprising hacker might take it upon themselves to take the stock scenario of the CRPG and enhance it with additional content sourced from the later adaptations of it.

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    1. I started with Treasures of the Savage Frontier; basically at the apex of the interface improvements, but long after the plots had faded as a focus in development. Though even the worst of the 9 Gold box games by far outdid most RPGs of that era not named Ultima.

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  8. Cool entry, Chet, I can fully understand the appeal of playing a cherished crpg with the corresponding pen'n'paper module at hand. Salute!

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  9. Could see you do the same for 'Temple of Elemental Evil' from (checks notes) ehm, 2003.

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    1. That would be amazing, and a tall order with the book being almost 150 pages. I would expect a blind, spoiler-free play through first though.

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    2. Remind me if I ever get near it.

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    3. With all the patches, that game is truly excellent. I haven't read the entire module, but I played through about 4-8 hours of it and what I experienced at least was very faithfully implemented in the CRPG.

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    4. Agreed on the fully-patched ToEE.

      For other module comparisons, it'd be worthwhile looking at the Ravenloft module in conjunction with Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession. And the first two Dragonlance modules were the basis of Dragons of Despair and Dragons of Flame, but those games... probably aren't so fun to revisit.

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  10. It's tempting to bring up the NES version for a different experience, but I both don't think that'd happen and I don't actually know how comperable it is to the computer versions.

    My general opinion on this game, as someone that comes from more of a console mindset, is that it's perfectly fine and enjoyable, but not anything mindblowing. To me the various quality of life things the later games added give me no particular reason to come back to this one. My main memories of playing this was constantly running to a safe place so I could wait several weeks because properly healing got old really quick, along with getting frustrated at a lot of the tougher combats and only feeling relief when they were done instead of any sort of accomplishment. Personally, I felt like the first two Dragonlance games were the best Gold Box ones, at least in terms of how much enjoyment I got out of them.

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    1. I probably wouldn't have been able to bring myself to play the NES version anyway, but even if I could, my recollection of previous discussions is that it changes so much it would be less fun to play it alongside the module.

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    2. I found it pretty similar to the DOS game, except for the text being shortened and much of the graphics being simplified.

      The worse thing IMO is that it's unbearably slow. Combat is slow, animations are slow, the text scrolling is slow, menus are slow, moving the cursor in combat is slow. Memorizing spells on the directional pad is tedious agony.

      Some of the music is alright, though.

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    3. The combat in the NES version, from what I remember, had cute little walking animations for everything in combat...which made each combat last at least an hour while you waited for everyone to shuffle into position. Definitely not one of the NES's better RPG ports. (Might & Magic was the best RPG port)

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    4. Honestly, I think the only console port I'd actually be interested in seeing is the Ultima 7 SNES port, and that's mostly because it can barely be called a port with how much it changes.

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    5. Pool of Radiance for the NES (along with NES Might and Magic) was my entry into CRPGs. We had an old IBM computer that could not play the current CRPGs that were coming out, and this was the early 1990s so you couldn't just walk into a store and buy mid-80s computer games or order them online. So while the NES versions might not be as good as the computer versions, I have warm memories of them.

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    6. The NES version is the only version I've played through to the end. I've actually played it three times and really enjoy it. Its slow, but I like the pixel art and music, and the battles in the NES version are a lot smaller. I also like relaxing with a console game instead of sitting at a computer, which always feels like work to me.

      There are so many differences that it might as well be a different game. I don't think it deserves all the hate it gets.

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  11. >I memorized spells. More oddities that have nothing to do with the module: Clerics start with three Level 1 spells

    Just FYI, clerics in that edition get bonus spells based on their Wisdom, starting at 13 and going up. At 18 Wis, I believe the bonuses are 2 first, 2 second, 1 third, and 1 fourth level spell. Obviously, you don't get the bonuses until you can cast spells of that level.

    If you suddenly get three 2nd level spells at cleric level 3, that's why.

    (I think the underlying reasoning is that cleric spells aren't that great offensively, and are mostly used to buff and heal, so they get more slots at low levels.)


    The Amiga version, btw, is better, especially in Azure Bonds and the third title. You'd probably want a WHDLoad image so that the save disk is built-in. On the image I last used, saves were very slow (30 seconds?), but worked fine.

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    1. I couldn't find an Amiga version of PoR that worked. What makes it "better"?

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    2. The sound on the amiga was way better at the time, I dare say the graphics too.
      Too bad the amiga port was bugged, and you couldn't save it. I bought it after I'd played Curse, and had to take it back to the shop.

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    3. I went back and looked at my (working) PoR install on my emulated Amiga, and it's really not that great. It's trying to do this antialiasing thing with the text, and it ends up looking horrible. Instead of the nice clean lettering from the PC, you end up with visual mush, at least as represented on a modern screen.

      I can archive up the runtime I have here if you want it... say so and I'll drop you an email. I wouldn't really recommend it, though.

      I did confirm that saves and loads were working on this image. I found, however, that I didn't get far with the game at all.... even on the Amiga, it's missing too many of the quality-of-life improvements from the later titles, and I find it very painful to play.

      The Krynn series is very good on the Amiga, but at least Pool of Radiance was such an early port that you're probably better off sticking with the PC version.

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  12. The 1E AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide has a whole page of suggestions and rules about leveling up and training. Some notable excerpts:

    "Not only must game time be spent by the character desiring advancement, but treasure will have to be spent as well. The amount of gold pieces, or the equivalent in value in gems, jewelry, magic items, etc., is found by using the following simple formula:
    LEVEL OF THE TRAINEE CHARACTER × 1,500 = WEEKLY COST DURING
    STUDY/TRAINING.
    The level of the aspiring character should be computed at current (not to be gained) level."
    "Characters who have achieved “name” level must merely spend game time equal to the number of weeks indicated by performance in self-conducted training and/or study. Costs (in g.p. or equivalent) of the exercise then become a function of class:
    CLERIC = 2,000/level/week (vestments & largess)
    FIGHTER = 1,000/level/week (tithes & largess)
    MAGIC-USER = 4,000/level/week (equipment, books, experiments, etc.)
    THIEF = 2,000/level/week (tools, equipment, etc.)"

    There's a loooong section on training taking longer numbers of weeks given how well the character played their class. This is one of those many, many super convoluted rules sections in the 1E DMG that it's doubtful anyone (or more than a handful) ever actually used the "Rules As Written" in practice. The CRPG theoretically could have removed characters from the party for weeks at a time for training, then later made them available to re-join at their new level. I doubt that would have been enjoyable to play though.

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    1. It would be nice to play a D&D game in which "training" felt like "training" and not just you paid someone, and now you're a level higher. I don't know what I'm necessarily looking for. Maybe a cut scene or minigame in which, say, a mage going from Level 1 to Level 2 actually has to practice the new spells or meditate to increase his connection to the ether, or whatever.

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    2. We finally found a use for Hillsfar

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    3. Not D&D, but I think the first few Gothic games did a great job making players train in magic.

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    4. While I certainly understand the desire, I think the problem with attempting to simulate training in a reasonable way in a TTRPG is that it's bloody boring. Real training would have you practicing the same few things over and over ad nauseam so that they became muscle memory (for physical skills) or just memorized (for mental ones).

      This, I believe, is why subsequent editions removed the requirements for training, shifting the conceptual framework of leveling up to "this is merely a recognition of the experience you have already gained from fighting/adventuring."

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    5. I'm thinking of '36 Chambers of Shaolin' training fields, and who's with me?

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    6. That has "yet another brain fart from Gary Gygax that he came up with in an afternoon and then never thought about again" written all over it. The biggest punch in the gut I ever took about D&D was finding out that Gygax never followed his own rules. Why write them then‽

      Turns out, he just had diarrhea of the brain and would spew anything out on paper, publish it, and feel relief afterwards.

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    7. Yeah Harland it feels like nearly every page in the DMG has some unusable mess that almost nobody could hope to use. What's really weird is that he would then explain the difference between OD&D and AD&D as AD&D having a fixed ruleset which everyone could clearly follow instead of doing their own totally different random stuff with the rules in their own games all the time. But that was only happening because the OD&D books were a mess and didn't even explain how to play, so everyone had to fill in the gaps. How to play D&D was spread around like a game of telephone in the early days. Maybe he had some marginal success in achieving rules consistency with AD&D? But it's like he constantly forgot while writing it what he was supposed to be doing, if that even was really a goal at the time.

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    8. I still play 1st edition. I actually enjoy reading the AD&D books today specifically because they are so wildly imaginative and yes, chaotic. I prefer AD&D to anything WotC has produced. WotC editions feel like sterile attempts to turn a fantastic game of imagination into World of Warcraft. The arcane nature of the early game is exactly why I'm drawn to it. Yes, it was like a game of telephone even when I started playing in the 1990s and that is still more interesting to me than the utter uniformity imposed on the game by WotC. Was Gary Gygax a little crazy? Probably. But one could argue that this hobby we love, computer or tabletop, wouldn't exist without him.

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    9. I think 5th edition stepped back from the WoW feeling of 4th edition and is a lot better.

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    10. I agree that it is an improvement over 4th. I played it for a while but found it too overly complex and went back to AD&D. To me 5th edition feels like it's attempting to simulate the complexity of a video game, whereas all of Chet's top rated games are directly attempting to simulate the freedom of tabletop 1st edition. Richard Garriott talks about this in episode 3 of the High Scores documentary on Netflix. I feel like around the turn of the century this got reversed and tabletop RPGs began to emulate the increasing complexity of the video games they had inspired in the first place.

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    11. I don't know anyone who actually tried to use training rules in AD&D as written. They just don't work.

      For one thing, the inference is that there's always someone better than you that you have to get training from. At higher levels it gets ludicrous. In the case of classes like druids, they even set out rules that you had to fight and kill a druid of the next level and take his place in the hierarchy.

      The fact the DM is expected to "rate" his players playing their classes as a direct multiplier on cost is also dangerous territory. The kind of things that leads to broken friendships.

      Finally, the whole concept of removing a character from play to train is too close to a war game mentality than an RPG. It suggests the player is not, in fact, playing a character at all but controlling a small force of characters. It's no surprise to me this came from Gygax, who was more into war games.

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    12. Players having a "stable" of characters they could swap in and out of play was apparently a staple of early d&d. Having characters "off screen" doing other things was normal. There's another long section of the 1E DMG that talks about managing this too.

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    13. It’s fairly widely know in tabletop circles that despite having his name on the spine, and despite having the sole writer credit on all of the original 1E hardcovers, Gary 100% did not write the entirety of the DMG. He never copped to this during his time at TSR. Back then he actively worked to mislead people into believing he was, in forums like his Dragon Magazine columns.

      There were apparently a large number of contributors that went uncredited. Other TSR employees, and people are Judges Guild (a major third party publisher of early D&D materials) are all acknowledged now as having provided large swaths of the material used in the 1E DMG.

      There have been threads that explore this in a few online forums like Enworld and Dragonsfoot. As well as discussion about the way Gary actually ran d&d, in order to try to narrow down what rules “matter” in 1E.

      I’ve never seen mention of Gary actually using those training rules at his table. As mentioned in my guest article here ~5 years ago, they literally don’t work out math wise, as Clerics and Thieves would never have enough gold to train their first few levels. Even with optimal play. As the training costs surpass the xp required to level, and 1E grants 1 xp per gp found.

      They really reek of something contributed by a person other than Gary, due to those reasons.

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    14. "This, I believe, is why subsequent editions removed the requirements for training, shifting the conceptual framework of leveling up to 'this is merely a recognition of the experience you have already gained from fighting/adventuring.'"

      That makes more sense, really. Logically, training would be a SUBSTITUTE for experience, not something that you had to do to make use of your experience.

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  13. You mentioned the slums showing up later than the keep, and that is a weird choice for the authors. The order of the presentation of information is notoriously bad in most adventure modules. Some have dungeon rooms that are right next to each other and clearly need to interact scores of pages apart, with no cross-references in either entry. Many have oodles of text irrelevant to the DM with a few key pieces of information buried in them somewhere.
    The problem is TSR figured out pretty early on that most module sales are actually just for people who want to only read them, not to DMs running the adventures for players. This is still true today. So the writing style and organization is tailored towards a casual reader going through it more like a novel than towards usability in play. There's an adventure reviewer blogger who writes about this all the time at https://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/

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    1. That's an interesting insight that most modules are sold to people who just read them. Do you think that's because the buyers prefer that, or are there just more people out there who would LIKE to play a D&D adventure than there are people who can get a group of friends together to play it?

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    2. I infected a friend in high school with my pen'n'paper obsession, and was baffled in how short of a time he'd assembled a sizeable collection of different systems. My first question was when we were going to play them all, but he simply shrugged and told me he enjoyed to imagine this stuff in his mind's eye.

      A bit of an introvert, for sure, but I later got him to DM a 'Vampire-The Masquerade' campaign, so it all paid off in the end.

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    3. It's a pretty common thing in wargaming as well. OG wargamers from the Avalon Hill days were known for buying games, reading the rules, setting up the game to push a few pieces around in small skirmishes only to put the game away and never play it again. James Dunnigan wrote about it in his Wargames Handbook back in the 80s.
      Playing an entire wargame from the good old days is a real slog. Having to keep track of all the rules, finding an opponent, finding space to leave it set up and all that jazz was really difficult. Actually getting a group together to play an AD&D campaign is almost as heroic an effort as the PCs will undertake. It's easy if you're in highschool or college but it's a lot more difficult in adult life. While playing the game by the rules is not that difficult, having a DM who's actually capable of running a good campaign is rare. It's TOUGH to be able to be a fair arbiter of the rules and act as any NPC and deal with whatever crazy plots the players come up with.
      I wouldn't be surprised at all if most modules were fodder for imaginations and light reading than actual play.

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    4. Yeah I think it's the difficulty of getting a steady group to consistently meet and play through a lengthy campaign. Many games fall apart due to personality conflicts as well. My general sense is that most readers would prefer to be playing if they could. Also, you can read a whole lot more modules than you can play, so even steady players are buying more material just to read.

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    5. From real life experience: I had a steady group (for 'Call of Cthulhu', my mainstay) since young adulthood which held up for about 15 years with slight changes in personnel, but after three lengthy campaigns things had run their course and little new was there to be discovered, jobs and spouses got in the way, thus we disbanded.

      And establishing a new group as an adult was a hassle, I started it as a mere tabletop get-together, to ease people into the idea of meeting regularly to play; one year in I introduced the idea of a pen'n'paper campaign and started preparing, but then covid got in our way. With several players dropping off, but the campaign already prepped I had to reach out to other acquaintances from my city whom I met at conventions, comic fairs etc. to get a devoted group of players together again.

      I don't want to scare anyone off the idea of DM'ing his own campaign, but it has become increasingly difficult and exclusive, truly something money can't buy...

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    6. I wouldn't read an adventure module, but I still like to read core rulebooks occasionally, especially character creation rules. Sometimes I'd like to play again, at least a little, but that would probably have to be with a group of strangers.

      Among my school friends, we all bought different tabletop systems, but we played most of them only once or twice. Only for DSA/Arkania we had two very dedicated GMs so we played that the most. But I still have quite a collection of character sheets from different systems (including Cthulhu, which we never played).

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    7. I think what you see is players think they can be DM as well....then they read the modules and become overwhelmed with how to build the story around the module. It isn't something everybody can do.

      I think the modules are written for a DM to use....but also with the understanding that the DM is going to use what they want from it and how they want, to guide the players through the module and into their bigger world. A lot of players (especially players with little to no experience playing) all think that they can DM as well, and that is not necessarily the case.

      What games like Skyrim or Oblivion and the ilk do well is allow you to follow the story the way that you want, to some degree, which is what a DM is supposed to do...let the players tell their story within the larger story the DM is presenting. Most CRPGs in the early days couldn't find a way to do this due to the limitations of the hardware and the size of the code needed to make something close to that happen. There are exceptions, and there are games that did it well within their own limitations....but too many missed the mark when they tried to mimic the Pen and Paper experience of DnD.

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    8. To summarize: It needs a very dedicated and well prepared Dungeon Master and a group of players who convinced themselves not to screw things up, then you can start from there...

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    9. I run a d&d game regularly. my current campaign is up to over 100 sessions. I only run my own stuff, but I still read modules for inspiration and entertainment.

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    10. I occasionally buy adventure modules just to steal ideas from them but I've never run one verbatim in 20+ years of DMing. Reading them is enjoyable, almost like playing an RPG in your mind. However I've ran some of my best sessions with a half finished map and some ideas scribbled on a post-it note. Pen and Paper DnD is all about spontaneity for me.

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    11. @Phaedrus, while I acknowledge your approach, it should be pointed out that D&D and CoC are entirely different beasts, with the latter being much more story-driven, thus requiring more preparation and allowing for less improvisation (though it's still an important part).

      Always interested to hear other DM's opinions.

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    13. I ran the Night Below campaign as a DM [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Below], and played it "by the book".
      I was a pretty bad DM for narration or scenario creation. My strength was that I was playing the monsters super smart, both in battle and outside of it - optimizing their stats and almost making them do "strategic" moves if the players were taking their sweet time ; the difficulty was compensated somewhat by the fact that I had 6 players in addition to me. Still, everyone died in the Kuoa-Toa city at the end of book II.

      I also applied the rules I knew pretty religiously, with 3 exceptions : training, spell component and level-up limit. On the other hand, if I did not know a rule during a session ("you sure you want to wrestle that guy ?") I would never interrupt the game to check the rules and made them on the spot, then checked them afterward.


      But of course, I also bought some RPGs or modules just to read the rules and the universe (most recently the Hungarian Picaresque RPG Helveczia - think Darklands-the-tabletop-RPG ; the best module I ever read was the Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer RPG)- same with wargames as Harland explained.

      A long time ago I visited the Slitherine guys near London (Slitherine is a famous computer wargame company) and the Founder/CEO [Iain McNeil] brought me to his library of manuals - a dedicated room where there were hundreds if not more than one thousand of them, ordered alphabetically. As a parting present, he gave me an extra manual he had for the computer game World in Conflict - an hardcover monster of 120+ pages. The computer game was not great but the manual, boy, that was a nice present indeed.


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    14. Anytime I've tried to run story driven modules by-the-book my players derail it leaving me feeling like I've spent hours prepping for nothing. I also refuse to railroad them to keep the plot moving. These days my players are only interested in killing monsters and getting rich and so I only run megadungeon campaigns. However they still manage to invent their own side quests and take far more interest in these pursuits than any story-driven module I've tried with them. They would probably enjoy Ruins of Adventure but despise anything Dragonlance.

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    15. I am actually one of those who just enjoys reading the modules. The last "book" I read was Dungeon of the Mad Mage and at the moment i'm reading Rime of the Frost Maiden. The new 5E Modules have real good writing and artwork... I always wanted to play them, but i neither found the time nor the right people... As Chet wrote on the first playthrough of PoR, the D&D rules system, regardless of the edition is a natural CRPG rules set. But playing them as P&P involves a lot of time and setup.
      And Chet, these Revisiting posts are very interesting. Care for trying Dungeon Master anew?
      Thanks alot for your Blog! Checking it is a regular part every day!

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    16. I used to buy Dungeon Magazine just to read the modules because I thought it was interesting (and occasionally I would get ideas). I remember trying to run one once, but solving the module required finding a specific hidden panel in one room of the large house, and I was not a good enough DM to figure out how to adapt things to overcome that.

      Interestingly in Japan, "replays" were popular -- these were essentially RPG sessions that the DMs and players would then write up and publish. I've never seen one so I don't know exactly what they looked like. But the "Record of Lodoss War" series, which spawned manga, books, games, anime, etc., began as a series of these "replays". This is somewhat analogous to Greyhawk and other D&D products but not quite the same.

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  14. I actually like the title Pool of Radiance. It's mysterious. Makes me wanna know what's up with that pool and why it radiates.

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    1. Agreed, enough ultra-generic titles around which no one's able to tell apart.

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    2. Yeah, after I wrote that, I happened to read what Jimmy Maher had written about the game, and while he agreed with me that it would have made sense to use the same title, he preferred Pool of Radiance. I at least think if they were going to call it that, the pool ought to have played more of a role in the story.

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    3. My guess is that "Pools of Radiance" sounds magical while "Ruins of Adventure" sounds like a total drag. +1 marketing

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    4. Yes. Pool of Radiance might not be the best indicator of what the game is about, but it's so much more evocative than Ruins of Adventure. If I had had to choose between the two games with no other knowledge, I'd definitely have gone with Pool.

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    5. Ruins of Adventure might be more descriptive of the game's content, but it's so generic it wouldn't raise my interest, especially in 1988 when we've already had almost a decade of CRPGs with similar names. At that point in time, players would have explored a dozen ruins of adventure already, but there's only one Pool of Radiance!

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    6. I am also team "Pool of Radiance". This name immediately intrigues. "What is this pool ? What does it radiate ?".

      The most evocative name of a RPG for me is "Betrayal at Krondor". WHO BETRAYS WHO ? AND WHY ? AND WHERE IS THIS KRONDOR PLACE ANYWAY ?

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    7. “Pool of Radiance” by itself might not be the best, but when one sees the “AD&D” on the box, then name becomes much more intriguing.

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  15. I'm loving every part of these replays. Thanks, Chet.

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  16. Always glad to read about more Gold Box!

    In the module, how much of the detail is listed for the DM's benefit and how much is meant to be explicitly revealed to the players?

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  17. https://rpgcodex.net/forums/threads/amiga-dungeoneering-collection.84467/

    This version work fine..

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  18. AlphabeticalAnonymousAugust 20, 2021 at 7:02 PM

    > It did, however, make sense for TSR to supply the writers

    Too true! I just finished reading through your reviews of MegaTraveller 1 & 2 (roughly halfway through this site's content!) and it sounded like a big reason for the improvement from 1 to 2 was the sequel's use of a Real RPGer. I wonder if the era's game companies just never thought of this, or merely decided it wasn't worth the expense/hassle.

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  19. I'm excited for this, for two big reasons:

    First, because I wasn't around when Chet was originally reviewing Pool—and his writing and reviewing chops have improved considerably in the intervening decade—and I'm looking forward to seeing his thoughts in the context of everything that has come since then.

    Second, because I have Ruins of Adventure myself, and have spent some time working on converting it (incompletely) to D&D 5e, and it'll be really neat to see what others think of it, both as a module in itself and in comparison to the CRPG.

    I have also read the novels—all three in the "Pools" series, "Radiance", "Darkness", and "Twilight"—and frankly, they're dreck. Darkess has some redeeming characteristics, I seem to recall (though it's been long enough that I don't remember the details), but I would not recommend spending money on any of them, nor time unless you're very bored.

    On the other hand, _Azure Bonds_, the novel that goes with Curse of the Azure Bonds, is actually very competently written (Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb wrote it, too), and is the first of a decent trilogy, set (at least by the third one) on the periphery of the Time of Troubles in the Forgotten Realms.

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    1. All I remember about Azure Bonds is that I enjoyed it, and that the characters said "Well met!". constantly.

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    2. The Wyvern's Spur, the second in the trilogy after Azure Bonds is particularly a gem - possibly the best of the many, many FR novels of the time (though in many cases this is a low bar).

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  20. "I'm still waiting for a D&D game to offer a ranseur +2 or a Spetum of Frost"

    Who would need that when you can have over 9.000 different polearms instead.

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  21. The CRPG Addict is turning more and more into the CRPG Archeologist. Good job excavating the truth of which came first of the computer game and the p&p module; I can dig that.

    Your comment about PoR being the best Gold Box game due to being designed by "real" RPG designers is interesting. I have earlier mentioned some times (but not here, I think), that PoR is the only GB that feels like a real p&p module due to the TSR designers. So I naturally assumed the p&p module came out first.
    This again reminds me about the discussion about writing from another blog entry. Some of the journal entries really fuel my imagination, this one being especially memorable and evocative:
    ""...and settled foremost in the hall of Minor Courtiers were the lesser powers: Maram of the Great Spear; Haask, Voice of Hargut; Tyranthraxus the Flamed One; Borem of the Lake of Boiling Mud; and Camnod the Unseen. These too fell down and became servants of the great lord Bane."

    As for trying a different version, trying the FRUA version (Game 51 by Ray Dyer, IIRC) could have been a nice introduction to FRUA. It misses a few hard coded things, though, so it's not a 100% conversion.

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    1. It'd be interesting to see what he thinks of it, yeah. I played through it myself and thought it was pretty cool.

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    2. You weren't the only one--they turned the Minor Courtiers into the Seven Lost Gods. They also wound up in the list of Elder Evils in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, though by that point the writers were probably inspired by the video game.

      https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Seven_Lost_Gods

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  22. A few quirks/exploits I remember:

    The 'evil' way of gearing up involves hiring heroes and thaumaturges, killing them, and looting their stuff.

    Hiring a warrior at the start of the game is pretty useful. They dont take Item shares and they have 13HP at level 1. It can be worth keeping them around for a few levels.

    The AI is bugged for mages such that they wont advance into melee range. Thus you have a really good chance of winning duels with pure mages in the training hall, because if they sleep you first, they just sit there 'guarding' till it wears off.

    The MODIFY function is tied to a character 0XP. One of the NPCs you can hire (the acolyte I think) has 0XP. Modifying it gives bizarre results. 255 Str, -6 Cha, that sort of thing. I seem to recall their race is 'monster' as well.

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    1. The acolyte was interesting in the Apple version. No unusual stats, but once you modify one it is treated exactly like a normal character, under your full control.

      You can't remove any characters and add them back afterwards (six character limit), but that bug gave you 7 or 8 full characters to use.

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    2. In the Commodore 64 version, modify is tied to the character being first level (and will tell you that if you try to modify a higher-level character). Nothing else. So if you hire any of the first-level hirelings, there's nothing at all stopping you from setting all their stats to 18. Doing so doesn't affect their AI; they stay a hireling, but one with higher stats.

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    3. Just a wild guess here but what if the purpose of the MODIFY option is to allow players to create NPCs from "Ruins of Adventure"?

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    4. *points upstream at the review*

      What if the purpose of a command in the computer game, is to allow the players to do something based on the module which did not exist when the computer game was released?

      Space is warped and time is bendable.

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  23. It seems strange to me that no one mentioned it: At the beginning of the D&D 5th Adventure League: the first adventure was "Defiance in Phlan", that shows even today the weight of this video game.

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  24. This is SO hard to read. "The module does this..."... "The module doesnt do that..." ... "And the module..."... "but the module..." ... awful reading, really. Would be nice to cut back on the mentioning of said "module".

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    1. Exactly, this wasn't what we paid for...oh wait

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    2. I don't get what the problem is. The entire point of this *bonus* post is to compare two things. It's hard to compare two things without often mentioning one of them.

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    3. It's not hard to read, Carl. Please stop.

      Delete
  25. Yay! More pool of radiance! You're the best, chet.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Stinking cloud wrecks that troll fight :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alas, since my mages were all multi-classed, no one had second-level spells at the time I reached the trolls.

      Delete
  27. Regarding the module extrapolating more on specific things, like the Dragon ruling from the castle, I would bet that it's because when you played the game, it was as a player (the D&D term); but when reading the module, it's as the dungeon master. You wouldn't necessarily give that info to the players.

    ReplyDelete

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