Saturday, December 25, 2021

Revisiting Pool of Radiance (1988), Part 4

 
The party takes on a mass of thieves in Kovel mansion.
       
In my previous experiences with Pool of Radiance, I found the three areas across the bay from downtown Phlan--the "wealthy area," the Temple of Bane, and Kovel Mansion--to be the least memorable of the bunch. They're presented as a kind of "suburb" of Phlan where the rich used to live away from the rabble-filled center of town. One map putatively holds a variety of manors and mansions (in truth, the same nondescript textures of every other map), long-since looted by monsters. One notable manor, Kovel Mansion, occupies its own map and has been taken over by thieves.
   
The "wealthy area" connects to the other two--Kovel to its north and the Temple of Bane to its west--so I did it first. It is essentially an extension of the Temple of Bane map, roaming with the same bands of orcs, hobgoblins, and ogres displaying Bane's holy symbol. You can kill any number of them and loot them for their symbols, but the encounters don't end until you've cleared the Temple of Bane. (These encounters exist in Ruins, but only in the Temple of Bane area.) It's easy to avoid combat, as all parlay options result in the enemies' peaceful departure. There are three sets of replies:
   
  • Nice or Meek: "We have orders to check out suspicious individuals, but youse guys look harmless enough." After talking the four orcs wander away.
  • Sly: One of the orcs says, "Oh, yeah. Youse them guys who know where de treasure is. We not supposed to kill you yet." The orcs then wander away.
  • Haughty or Abusive: In a deep threatening voice one of the orcs says, "You moles better watch your step or you shall feel the wrath of Bane!" After saying this he spits and leaves.
         
This comment is really confusing until you read the module.
     
These might vary based on charisma or other attributes, but in any event I like how the game uses its conversation "stances" here.
   
There are a few fixed combats with the same types of creatures in the mansions, and searching some of the mansions results in various small treasures, including a really heavy tapestry not worth hauling back to town. In a cell in one of the mansions (gods know why a mansion has a cell) you get a clue that has always mystified me: Scratched on the wall is a message that reads "NORTH WALL. RI  T FRONT GLAS .  SE." There is nothing in the area that seems to have anything to do with a glass case. I now see from the hint book that this is a "false hint."

The tabletop module Ruins of Adventure offers the same basic map as Pool but annotates no encounters whatsoever. Instead, it offers the map as a kind of black template for miscellaneous NPC missions to recover treasures hidden before the fall. For instance, one of the special encounter charts offers this:

The princess with a problem: This encounter is designed to get the PCs to go to Sokal Keep, Kuto's Well, or Kovel Mansion if they haven't been there already, by having a beautiful princess hire them to go to one of them and retrieve a particular item or clear out the block, or something.
   
The Temple of Bane map in Pool consists of a central temple ringed by empty buildings. Clearing the temple (it used to be dedicated to Il-Mater) is the main quest of our companion, the cleric Dirten. The same parties of orcs, hobgoblins, and ogres wander the area.
   
The leather holy symbols looted from the orcs don't help avoid the random encounters, but they do help you get into the central temple, as they fool a blind orc whose job is to feel for their presence. This avoids a combat outside the temple and prolongs the time you have to explore inside before the orc leader, Mace, senses you and orders his followers to attack.
     
The crafty orc waited for us to find the good stuff.
    
Mace's army is likely meant to be saved for after the party acquires "Fireball." The arrangement of enemies is practically begging for it. I didn't have it yet, though, so I won the old fashioned way, with lots of castings of "Sleep," "Stinking Cloud," and "Hold Person." Again, my decision to make all my party members multi-class magic users really paid off. When the battle was over, Dirten left the party and I destroyed the altar to Bane, finishing off the area. 
       
This was a challenging battle without "Fireball"
      
The Temple of Bane is a rare area in which Ruins offers a more interesting adventure than Pool. First the backstory is different. The Pool party gets the quest when the town clerk tells them that Bishop Braccio (cleric of Tyr) wants to see them. Braccio foists Dirten, a human cleric, on the party. The goal is to clear the temple and rededicate it to either Tyr or Ilmater. It's a crusade. In Ruins, on the other hand, "Dirtan"--a gnome cleric--approaches the party independently, on a mission to find some relics in the temple.

Ruins offers a map of the area that's similar to the book, but mirrored so that the party enters the temple from the east rather than the west. The buildings on the periphery are not all empty, though: one of them is set up as Mace's living quarters. The party can encounter a large group of orcs there--they'll be surprised for one round if the party sports leather holy symbols--and loot Mace's collection of jeweled and silver maces. Mace himself may show up to help fight, but the module is clear that he cannot be killed in his residence and will always find a way to escape so that he can show up in the temple.
    
The tabletop module doesn't give you the ability to destroy Bane's altar.
     
The encounter with the old blind orc outside the temple is identical. However, the party isn't attacked as they explore. Mace wants the relics, too, it turns out, and he's content to let the party search where they want, attack who they want, and deface what they want until they unearth the relics. (This is only hinted in Pool by the "sly" encounter dialogue with orcs, as above.) But if they don't find anything within two hours, Mace orders the attack and 40 orcs swarm the party from the outside. "If the characters try to flee," the module says, "the orcs pursue relentlessly, even to the gates of civilized Phlan."
  
Like the game, the module also offers three caches of equipment hidden beneath floorboards. You get six clerical scrolls, five magic user scrolls, four illusionist scrolls, four potions, a Wand of Fear, Dust of Disappearance, seven gold and silver statuettes of gnome kings, and eight +1 magical weapons. When I read that, I was thinking that this is a much better deal than Pool gives you, but in fact the game gives you almost all the same things, except you only get a couple of scrolls and the seven statues only sell for 87 gold pieces instead of the thousands that they're worth in Ruins. In previous tries at this game, I must have missed some or all of the caches because I absolutely do not remember the Dust of Disappearance making an appearance in Pool. I would have used it during the kobold battles.
      
That sounds like a pretty miserable deal.
        
The module is silent about how Dirtan reacts to the artifacts and which ones he demands to keep. My Dirten was happy enough to have cleared the map and didn't want anything.
    
Dirten leaves the party.
  
I returned to civilization before trying Kovel Mansion. It's a thief-intensive area, and I wanted to see if my thief would level first. I did my usual round of visiting Sasha, identifying my magic items, selling what I didn't need, distributing the ones I wanted to keep, and resting to heal and re-memorize spells. As readers of my previous Pool of Radiance coverage know, the economy is horribly broken in this game. There's hardly any reason to spend any money on anything after the initial equipment purchase, and you keep amassing more and more of it. By this time in the game, you can safely leave every silver and gold piece on the ground and you won't run out of money before the game's end. However, I've been forcing myself to pick everything up. I wanted to see how much total wealth I could amass by game's end. Well, I won't be able to answer that question because something has gone wrong. At one point in the shop, I went to pick up my cash, and I found that the party had 65,542 jewelry pieces (they can carry maybe 5,000 of those, and they'll barely be able to move). Since individual jewelry pieces sell for thousands of gold pieces, my party is the richest group of people ever to set foot in the Forgotten Realms. They only occupy that top spot for a few minutes, though, as I have to leave about 65,000 pieces of jewelry sitting on the shopkeeper's counter. I hope he has a hell of a safe.
      
I want to know how I got 65,542 of something. I could imagine all kinds of errors that would give me 65,535 of them, but I would think that would be the maximum.
   
Halfdir was able to train to a Level 5 thief. Hoping that's enough, I head back across the bay to Kovel Mansion. It has been occupied by a band of thieves, and the council has given me a quest to clear it out. My preparation was hardly enough; I guess you want more like a Level 7 thief here. Halfdir missed most traps, set off the ones he detected, and failed to pick almost every lock. I made it through with "Knock," "Cure Light Wounds," and bashing. The place is curious. There are two large battles with thieves between Level 1 and 6 (mostly Level 1) plus lots of individual battles with single thieves who try to backstab you as you explore the rooms. There are a lot of traps, some the moment you walk into the room, some attached to chests and coffers and such. You get some scrolls and low-level magic items here. 
    
This takes me back to Wizardry.
     
There's no single named leader, but one of the Level 6 thieves has a suit of leather armor +4 on him, so that's probably him. However, there's evidence that some crafty leader has been collecting copious intelligence on the resettlement of Phlan. The area is useful mostly for this lore. You find a number of documents with individual bits of information organized into "facts," "strong rumors," "rumors," and "vague rumors." It's from these scraps that the party learns that Porphyrys Cadorna is employing thieves and mercenaries, and that the Boss is a dragon (possibly a metallic one, odd as that would be) and holed up in Valjevo Castle. Valjevo is surrounded by a hedge maze, and the thief leader has a map of one of the maze's quadrants. You also get some flavor text that fleshes out the characters of Bishop Braccio (he opposes selling "miracles") and council leader Ulrich Eberhard (he hates Cadorna and is cheating on his wife).
     
These bits of intelligence are important to Pool but not found in Ruins.
    
Except for the map, which is completely different, the Ruins module is faithful to Pool here, down to the random thieves surprising the party members with backstabs. The module mentions various traps and ambushes, and groups of around 18 thieves Levels 1 through 6. There are some creative traps that would have been hard to model in the computer game, such as a room that locks and slowly fills up with burning oil and a room where a net falls from the ceiling. You find the same basic sorts of treasure, including a short sword +2 and a cursed broad sword, but nobody has a +4 leather armor. The scraps of information are entirely lacking from the module, however, and the rumors the party finds in Pool are not delivered in any other context in Ruins. Braccio and Eberhard have less presence in the module, where they're mentioned only once in a brief paragraph.
     
When I finished with Kovel Mansion, I had four active quests from the Council:
   
  • Valhingen Graveyard.
  • Stop the nomads from joining the enemy. 
  • Stop the kobolds from joining the enemy.
  • Find the source of the river's pollution and end it.
  
I didn't feel that my triple-classed clerics were ready for the graveyard. The other three requests require leaving Phlan for the overland map. The overland map offers coordinates with the origin point in the northwest. The party can travel from 2 to 41 on the x-axis and 2 to 32 on the y-axis, although owing to the irregular shape of the shores of the Moonsea, the southernmost square in any column can be as low as 24.
  
In addition to Phlan and its boat landings to the east and west, the wilderness area has seven locations. From west to east, these are: the ruined castle in the middle of a swamp in which lizardmen live, the kobold caverns, the camp of the nomads, Yarash's pyramid, the dragon cave, the buccaneer base, and Zhentil Keep. While the map looks mostly similar in Ruins of Adventure, and is roughly the same size (Ruins uses hexes, of course), many of the locations are different. Ruins has the kobold caves, the nomad camp, and the lizardman camp, but not the other locations. There is a mission to Zhentil Keep, but the keep does not appear explicitly on the map, and I gather from the description that the party is meant to travel there more ore less automatically rather than actually moving across a hex map. But Ruins curiously has additional locations, including a hobgoblin cave, an orc camp, and a thri-kreen village. These locations are more heavily detailed than the ones that came from Pool; the hobgoblin caves take up five pages, for instance, compared to only a single page (or sometimes half) for any of the Phlan sections. I wonder whether the hobgoblins, orcs, and thri-kreens were added by the module authors or whether they were originally planned for Pool but later cut. The thri-kreen camp in particular has some seriously cool items, including a short sword +3 and a Ring of Protection +2. The hobgoblin caves serve up a long sword +3 and a Ring of Regeneration.
     
The outdoor map from Ruins of Adventure. Why "referee" and not "dungeon master"?
    
Exploring outside in Pool puts you at risk of random combats with monsters like kobolds, gnolls, trolls, giant lizards, and spiders. These are consistent with what Ruins offers in the wilderness, but Ruins also has a lot more. I gather that a long and varied list of random encounters is part and parcel for tabletop RPGs. I'm not sure how often the dungeon master was supposed to roll for them (that's probably in the Dungeon Master's Guide), but assuming that the characters are wandering through a forest, there are 1d20 potential encounters, including elves, wild boars, ogres, stirges, bandits, hill giants, phase spiders, snakes, black bears, jackals, leopards, and a pilgrim under attack by one of the other monsters. Seven of the potential outcomes have you refer to other charts with their own 1d20 selection of possibilities. Some of these are "special" encounters, in which instead of just getting hit with enemies, something unique can happen. Some examples:
    
  • The group meets a beggar asking for a bit of gold to help fill his stomach. If the party gives gold, the beggar tells them a generic password good for several places in the inhuman areas. It they don’t pay up, he gives the “curse of the beggars;” for the next ten encounters, there are 2 hit dice more of whatever faces the party than there should be.
  • A single inhuman warrior comes up to the adventurers and challenges one of them to personal combat. The fight is to the death and the winner takes the equipment of the loser. If the PCs all attack, the challenger simply runs. There should be a 10% chance of magical treasure with every fight. The list of monsters should include: orcs, ogres, humans of various types, goblins, and hobgoblins.
  • The doppelganger attack: The doppelgangers are designed to replace PCs that fall in battle. These doppelgangers then start attracting large numbers of other doppelgangers in a series of constant attacks on the party.
  • The Rumor Monger appears with news.
  • The bardess Tabat wishes to join the group for three adventures.
      
It's rare to find a CRPG that implements random encounters like this. Some of the later Gold Box games, in addition to monsters, had wandering merchants, clerics, and trainers. Even this one has a few interesting things, like the party sees a dragon flying overhead or meets some friendly nomads. But can you think of any CRPG that has random encounter tables with the level of breadth and depth of a tabletop module? There are plenty of games with a large variety of encounters, but they're almost always fixed.
      
A rare non-combat random encounter on the Pool map.
      
I can only wish there were more interesting encounters in Pool. As much as I like the combat system, I've always hated fighting outdoors in every Gold Box game. The rules of the terrain are hard to figure out (e.g., you can stand on the base of a tree but not the top), distances and area-of-effect rules change, and the maps are absurdly large, with the enemy usually starting a couple dozen squares away. Emulating the game, I typically set it to auto-combat and then hold down the "warp" key combo. If the enemy is too tough for that, I'm more likely to kill the emulator and reload than spend 20 minutes fighting a group of boars for 25 experience points.
    
The pyramid is my least favorite of the Pool quests, but I suppose I've come this far, and it frankly seems downhill after that. There's no way I'm going to try the kobold caves until I have "Fireball," and I think either the nomad camp or the lizardman camp benefits from having gone to the pyramid first, so I guess that's next.

26 comments:

  1. But can you think of any CRPG that has random encounter tables with the level of breadth and depth of a tabletop module?
    Realms of Arkania, particularly Star Trail, have a very winde variety of random encounters both in overworld map and in the cities. That's what first pops to mind at least.
    Then, of course, there are modern story-focused roguelikes like e.g. Sunless Sea whose whole gameplay concept is that.

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    1. Darklands comes to my mind. It has random, location dependent encounters on the overland map, with several role-playing options.

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    2. For sure Darklands felt like it had a big variety at the time. Fallout 1 I rember as having quite an assortment, though they were probably mostly fights, with a few merchants, like Pools of Darkness.

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    3. Yeah, it's a quest system used in a lot of roguelites and also in strategic RPGs like Eador and Thea.

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    4. Dragon Age: Origins has a quite varied random encounter system. Each is unique, however, and the list can get exhausted (leaving a single, repeatable merchant encounter) - so it's somewhere between a random encounter system and a random place for mini side-quests.

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    5. Darklands is a good example. I had forgotten that Dragon Age: Origins had any random encounters at all.

      It occurs to me that Skyrim isn't bad in this regard. In addition to just regular enemies, there are thieves who run up and try to extort you, Thalmor agents, prisoners being marched by both imperial soldiers and Stormcloaks, clashes between imperial soldiers and Stormcloaks, some guy who runs up and hands you an item and asks you to protect it, farmers who lost their house to dragons, and random parties of Vigilants, Companions, and vampires. They could have made them more interesting, I suppose.

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  2. Referee was frequently used interchangeably with Dungeon Master in earlier d&d material. The term came from the inventors' wargaming backgrounds.

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    1. Our German D&D derivate 'Das Schwarze Auge' called their maps 'Der Plan des Schicksals' (literally, the plan of fate) and that always had a special ring to it. I guess they named them this way because they were for the keeper's eyes only and denoted all the traps, secret doors etc. I love their old modules and still have them stored somewhere.

      A propos: Besides Referee and Dungeon Master, isn't Keeper a valid term in English to describe the job?

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    2. Call of Cthulhu rpg which first came out in 1981 used the term Keeper. Gamemaster is a common term for other rpgs.

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    3. In Call of Cthulhu the GM is called the Keeper (short for “Keeper of Arcane Lore”), so yeah, it’s definitely in the ballpark though I’ve never heard it specifically for a DnD DM.

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    4. 'kay, that makes sense, I switched to CoC around the age of 14, mainly with the English materials from Chaosium, that's where I must have got it from.

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  3. At some point, we all have to move on.

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  4. That 65542 error is interesting. I'd guess what you have is a 32 bit variable whose upper half somehow got incremented from 0x0000 to 0x0001. That would do the equivalent of adding 65536 to however many pieces of jewelry you really had.

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    1. Yeah, that would make sense. I can't imagine how that happened, though.

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  5. A perfect Christmas present would be a video of your finger coreo while resting and healing and praying/memorizing spells :D

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    1. Yeah, that's definitely the absolute worst part of this game by far.

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    2. That's why I use Gold Box Companion

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    3. My solution was to just run back to a safe area and rest for a couple months

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    4. I spent a few minutes at a Temple.

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    5. I get why people are upset about it. While I wouldn't deliberately avoid the "Fix" command in later games, I do feel that having to manually re-memorize and cast spells gives more meaning to the casting process and makes it less likely that the player is going to use spells carelessly. And as Carlos points out, you do fall into an easy rhythm. The hard part for me is that I have 6 mages, so I can't always remember who has what memorized and thus who needs to re-memorize what. Instead of spreading spells around, I should just make one "magic missile" mage, one "area effect" mage, one "buffing" mage, and so forth.

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  6. The most noticeable problem with spells outside in the Gold Box games is fireball. The spell has a specific VOLUME of effect (33,000 cubic feet, I think. Or 33 10-foot cubes). They inaccurately represent this by increasing the radius in INSIDE maps, even when there's outside parts of the map.

    This is meant to simulate the fireballs volume in a hemisphere outside, including up. Inside usually has a ceiling which forces the spell to spread out more to use the entire volume.

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  7. The special 4-orc patrols in the Wealthy Area and Temple of Bane never check charisma. These patrols avoid combat and are trying to lure your party into the temple (the clue book also says this is what's happening). The other patrols don't behave this way; they do check charisma, and what you do with them doesn't affect the temple encounter.

    The orcs guarding the temple will let you enter peacefully not only if you have Bane's holy symbols; they'll also let you enter if you met one of the four-orc patrols and didn't try to kill it, since they now know to lure you into the temple.

    You don't have any time limit searching the temple. Timers are possible with the Pool of Radiance scripting engine; they just didn't put one here.

    Leather armor +4 isn't that powerful. It's the same physical protection as Bracers AC 4, and the magical protection is also the same since Pool of Radiance doesn't implement better saving throws with magical armor.

    The tabletop module goes through each of thieves level 1 to 6, but here you only have levels 1 and 6. A complete monster description takes much more space in Pool of Radiance than all other contemporary CRPGs I can think of, which is probably why.

    The wilderness encounters depend on which third of the wilderness you are in (western, central, or eastern). The tabletop module has it depend upon terrain type, which is more logical but is more effort to implement.

    You can get a random lair encounter in the wilderness, ~5% of the time (including while resting). There are 11 different lairs, each with its own mini-map. Most players miss these; they're not detailed in the clue book, the most likely lairs have little of interest, and as you noticed the game discourages you from spending a lot of time in the wilderness.

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  8. I have a hard time with the outdoor map in POR, I get very annoyed with it and actually haven't finished the game because of that.

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  9. Even after all these years I'm still so impressed with the depth of Pool of Radiance. It really does make all the other Gold Box games like light on.

    I remember, as an adult, finally beating Death Knights of Krynn and going "that's it?" It felt so short compared to Pool and Curse.

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  10. Are the thief sprites supposed to look like they are shirtless and shoeless? The party in the first image looks like it's being assaulted by an army of Bruce Lees.

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