Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Game 57: Pool of Radiance (1988)

Pool of Radiance
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1988 for DOS and Commodore 64; 1989 for Apple II, Macintosh, PC-88, and PC-98; 1990 for Amiga and Sharp X1, 1991 for NES
Date Started: 31 May 2011
I only ever played about eight or ten sessions of pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons, and those were enough for me. On paper, there's no reason I shouldn't love it. I've played hundreds of hours of D&D-themed computer games. I love fantasy novels and fantasy movies. I really enjoy reading D&D rulebooks and modules. I just don't like playing with a real dungeon master and real players.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why, and these are the best theories I can come up with:

  • Pen-and-paper roleplaying takes too damned long. By the time you get to the location, get settled, open the chips, pour the drinks, get out the paperwork, roll characters for the new players, set up the campaign, and generally stop screwing around, hours have gone by. You can easily spend half a dozen sessions getting through a simple module.
  • Because you're playing with other people, you can't just get up and leave whenever you want. And you have to mesh your schedule with theirs. There's no suddenly deciding to play at 01:00 when you can't sleep.
  • It's tough to find a talented DM. If he's too imaginative, the game feels more like he's telling a story than you're playing. If he's too lenient, there's no challenge. If he's too inflexible, say goodbye to your character.
  • There are a million rules and calculations, and the game comes to a standstill every five or six rounds as you roll dice and try to figure out whether your saving throw really applies to this particular use of poison or whatever.
  • If you don't have three or four friends who like D&D, you end up playing with strangers. If you do have three or four friends who like D&D, you start to wonder about the choices you've made.

For all these reasons, despite its long history as a paper game, D&D has always struck me as a natural computer-based game system. A computer can do the calculations. You don't need friends with a computer. You can play with your computer any time you want. Your computer is an impartial DM. The only thing lacking with CRPGs over regular RPGs is a certain amount of open-endedness and flexibility. I can't suddenly decide to abandon Baldur's Gate and stalk off towards Silverymoon. But many CRPGs offer worlds that are enormous if not boundless, and this is usually good enough for me.

The game's first quest.

Pool of Radiance isn't the first D&D adaptation for the computer. Wikipedia says that was the PLATO-based dnd, followed by the PDP-10-based Dungeon, two handheld games from Mattel, and an Intellivision game. To a lesser extent, of course, practically ever fantasy CRPG listed on this blog is a D&D adaptation--just not an officially-licensed one. But Pool of Radiance was the first true CRPG adaptation of the specific D&D rules. (Heroes of the Lance, released the same year, was a side-scrolling action game.) It showed that D&D-style gameplay, character development, NPCs, and tactics could be adapted to the computer, and it introduced the idea of the "campaign setting" to CRPGs; games don't have to be direct sequels to each other to be set in the same world. Pool of Radiance and its three sequels are all set in the same realm as Eye of the Beholder, Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights, and once you know the geography, races, magics, religions, monsters, and politics of one game, you can use that knowledge in others.

None of this would be particularly interesting if the gameplay didn't work, but a few hours with Pool of Radiance confirms what I remember: this is an awesome game. It has a great plot, an extensive game world, and a lot of lore. It is tactically challenging and reasonably fast-paced. There are a few things not to like--sparse first-person graphics and a tiresome healing process among them--but they're certainly sufferable.

The Gold Box series perfects SSI's tactical combat system.

Part of the game's charm is the back story, which is satisfying in its own modesty. You're not out to save the world or become a god or anything. Rather, your job is to help restore a ruined city called Phlan, a minor port on the Moonsea. Once prosperous, it was overrun by monsters a few hundred years ago and fell into disrepair. But descendants of its old inhabitants have now reclaimed it, set up a City Council, hired guards, and walled off a "civilized" section, and they are now soliciting for mercenary bands to start cleaning out the monster-inhabited sections of the city.

An advertisement for mercenaries, from the Adventurer's Journal.

One of the satisfying things about replaying this game in the Internet age is that I can finally see where the Moonsea is, relative to other lands of the Forgotten Realms (technically called "Faerûn"). The Forgotten Realms Wiki has a full map, which I've included below along with some annotations as to the (rough) relative locations of certain games.

You begin by creating a party of six characters from all six core D&D races (human, dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, halfling), both sexes, nine alignments, and four classes (cleric, fighter, magic user, and thief). Normally, I would set out to create a set of characters that I could use throughout the four "Gold Box" games, but a somewhat clumsy implementation of the D&D rules in this first game means that I'll probably create a new set of characters for the next game, Curse of the Azure Bonds. First, there are no paladins or rangers in this game. Second, non-human races have level maximums and I have to make sure they aren't lower than the maximum level in the game. Third, there are maximum levels in the game, ranging from Level 6 for wizards and clerics to Level 9 for thieves. But these are level maximums, not experience maximums, so it makes sense to use multi-classed characters, thus ensuring that you never have the infuriating experience of not earning any more experience.

Thus, my party:

  • Octavianus: chaotic good male human fighter (possibly to dual to cleric later)
  • Karnov: neutral male dwarf fighter/thief
  • Lame Brain: neutral good male elf fighter/magic user
  • Duskfire: lawful good female [sorry about that man, but I needed another female, and frankly it sounds like a female's name] half-elf fighter/magic user
  • Zink: lawful neutral male half-elf fighter/cleric
  • Koren: neutral good female human cleric (possibly to dual to fighter later)

This leaves no halfling, but they suck at everything but thievery and I don't recall thieves playing a large role in this game.

Octavianus, I hope that works for you.

As you create your character, you get to select from a number of heads and bodies to create your character portrait. Most of the portrait choices look pretty dumb, and I think this is the only Gold Box game to include them. You also select from various colors and styles to create your character icon. I'm colorblind, so I usually just focus on the weapon and head style and randomize everything else. I'm sure it looks stupid.

Right at the beginning, the game gives you the ability to cheat wildly. After creating your characters, no matter what attribute statistics they originally received, you can choose to "modify" them and change the statistics to whatever you want. The ostensible reason for this, given in the manual, is: "You may want to bring your favorite AD&D character into Pool of Radiance. Create a character of the same race and class and then modify it to match your non-computer AD&D character." Sure. All around the world, Pool of Radiance players suddenly had paper D&D characters with every attribute set at 18.

When I played Pool of Radiance the first time, in 1988, and the second time, in probably 1995, I happily engaged in this type of cheating, but not this time. It's hardly necessary anyway. Rarely does the game offer you single-digit attribute statistics. These were the numbers I got for Lame Brain after only three or four re-rolls:

His intelligence belies his name. His face does not.

Your characters start with no equipment and roughly 100 gold pieces per person. The game begins on the docks of Phlan, your mercenary ship presumably having just arrived. You are greeted by a townsman named Rolf who proceeds to give you a quick tour of the city and the major edifices.

Hey! We must be related!

Rolf shows the Temple of Tyr, the docks, the training facility, City Hall, Sune's Temple, City Park, and the entrance to the "monster-ridden areas of the old city." He then leaves the party alone to begin its adventure. This posting is already getting long, so I'll get into the real meat of the gameplay tomorrow.

Before I go, though, we must discuss the game's documentation. The game comes with an interesting construction called a "codewheel" that serves as both a copy protection device and a translator. The codewheel has two overlapping rings--one inner, one outer--and at the beginning of each session, the game asks you to match up two runes and tell it what word is found along one of three paths.

Lacking a physical copy, I was in the middle of creating a complicated PowerPoint-based solution when it suddenly hit me that someone must have programmed a little applet for this somewhere. Sure enough, I found a web site that allows you to do the selections quite easily. And guess who created it. That's right: Andrew freaking Schultz, the "king of classic CRPG walkthroughs". Did this guy do everything? It's actually not hosted on his own site any more, and the current hosts note that they can't reach him. I couldn't reach him, either, when I wrote about walkthroughs. Where did he go?

The second piece of important documentation is the Adventurer's Journal, which is almost unique in CRPGs of the era, although the concept was seen first way back in Temple of Apshai and taken to something of an extreme in Star Saga. To account for the limitations in on-screen text and cut scenes of the era, the creators described key encounters, including visuals such as maps and diagrams, in a 57-entry Adventurer's Journal. At key points, the game cues you to open the journal and read one or more of the entries. Lest you be tempted to read ahead, they randomized the order of entries and included several red herrings among the real ones.

A random journal entry. This is the last time I look one up before the game tells me to.

The Journal also contains a collection of 23 "tavern tales" that you hear in bars. My first tavern tale was that "buccaneers operate a slave auction out of a hidden camp near Stormy Bay." Finally, it contains the quest proclamations that you find outside City Hall.

My characters have just arrived in town, so my first goal is to get some equipment. I still remember the first time I played the game, when I got embroiled in a huge tavern brawl before I had any weapons, and all my characters died. After that, I'll map the town and see what quests await me at City Hall. A warning for the next few weeks: I'm probably going to drag this one out.


  1. By all means. A classic indeed, but one I couldn't finish when I tried a year ago because the plethora of managerial obligations this game throws at you with no automation at all piled up. There's only so many times I want to pick up mundane item loot to sell back at town, divide/pool gold accordingly for every purchase, spend time manually healing my guys, carefully inspecting my inventory and armor and so on.

    There's something to be said about how in paper and pencil rpging you only have to keep track of your one character (plus any retainers or whatever)!

    1. Well, two years too late but as this is for the archives it makes sense to post.

      There is a helper program, "Gold Box Companion" that gives Pool of Radiance the "fix" command to heal your party with one key, and other features, such as:

      * Fix-command for Pool of Radiance. Works with the other games as well. Instantly heals the characters.
      * Store the list of memorized spells and restore the spells with a single click.
      * Character editor. Reads/modifies memory so it's instant compared to save file editors.
      * Enable/disable quickfight. Some of the older games didn't disable quickfight between fights so you could enter a dangerous fight with quickfight on.
      * Temporarily change demihuman race to human to avoid level limits.
      * Optional HUD above DOSBox window with hit points, character portraits and XP meters. Baldur's Gate sized portraits can be used.


    2. Hi Thanks! Many years late but this is something really spurs me to try the game again~~

    3. The Gold Box Companion can now be found at:

      It also has automapping for those who are not such big fans of mapping themselves as our host (and myself).

  2. Finally! The first CRPG that has it all - an exciting game world to explore, lots of content and real turn based tactical combat. Especially the encounters (we can parlay with the monsters?!?) and the tactical combat was what to me set it apart from previous CRPG games.

    I had much the same experience with table top role playing as Chet. In addition to the other negative aspects mentioned one thing that annoyed me was players who treated the game as their own personal single player game and who would go on and on what their characters were doing and saying.

    I'm honoured to see Octavianus leading The People's Liberation Front of New Phlan. You even got my man boobs correct. But the beard is wrong, though.

    Cool map! But you've left out the Savage Frontier games. They take place on the Sword Coast, roughly in the same area as the Baldur's Gate games.

    Your party seems very balanced. Having more than one cleric (for healing) and one mage (one Sleep spell can make or break your day) is important at these low levels.

    As for the tavern brawls, when I last played and lost the battle all my characters who didn't actually die in the combat, was left with 1 HP afterwards.
    Having large battles where som monsters/NPCs actually fought on your side (without being charmed magically first) was first seen in Pool of Radiance, I think. Or does anyone know of older games where this could happen?

  3. [Original comment got eaten by the internet gods.]

    "Octavianus, I hope that works for you."

    Are you sure you haven't been lurking at RPG Codex, sir?

    I used to really enjoy tabletop RPGs as a chance to engage in freeform storytelling with my friends and have some interesting scenarios to play through in the sense of combat, traps, skill checks, etc. But as I grow older I find that it's basically impossible to make a time commitment to meet up on a regular basis even if people that I wanted to play with were all in the same geographical area. Also, I find that I have less and less patience for most (C)RPG stories these days and am more interested in the gameplay elements.

    Anyway, this looks like a good start. It almost makes me want to replay the game again but I've gotten sucked into the Wizardry series. It's a shame they don't make anything like these anymore (outside a few indie projects).

  4. BTW, both mages multi classed? That means it will take a long time to get those Fireball spells...
    Some of the battles, like the big fights in the Kobold Caves will be very difficult without a Fireball or two.

    1. nearly 5 years later, and I'll just say there should be enough necklace of missiles to make these doable without a mage with fireball.

    2. you just have to learn the long process of saving a character on one disk(img) trading the good stuff and deleting the player on another disk. then add the player again trade the goods and repeat. 1990?

    3. i learned to replicate characters in 1990 and gave all characters the best they could have. time consuming process but less battle time easily made up for it.

    4. See, to me, making things really easy by exploiting the game makes for worse, not better, gameplay.

  5. If the game gives a real sense of progress in restoring the city, with major effects on the gme world, I think I just found my summer project.

    Restoration and healing are terribly rare in games. Generally one just destroys things until the ending sequence shows a couple of pictures about how things have improved. One of the projects I've filed under "Will never be started" is a vaguely King of Dragon Pass - like strategy game that begins when the Chosen Heroes slay the Dark Lord. This does nothing to deter the wandering monsters that have appeared since the Dark Lord's rise, and agriculture and trade become impossible.

  6. The thing lacking in CRPG vs paper RPG is reale role playing. If you play as a different personality with different motivations and everyone else is also acting a different character working towards their own goals, then the game experience is very different. Though if you play the paper RPG just to fight monsters to gain exp, items, and gold your better off playing on the computer.

  7. Anon, there are some changes to the game world. After a block is cleared it is safe and you will no longer be attacked by monsters. After finding the source of a river pollution the overland map will reflect the fact. If you manage to neutralize the threat from certain tribes peacefully, when ever you meet members of that tribe they will be friendly to you.
    So there is some choices&consequences, but nothing really dramatic.

  8. UbAh makes a very good point. All the best moments in my paper role-playing career (even shorter than the CRPG addict's) wouldn't have been possible on the computer.

    Take the time my fighter subdued a bandit by using another bandit as a club. Then our party tied them up, and our mage cast Intoxicate to interrogate them. (We allowed the player to improvise spells within reasonable limits. The character was gifted in fire magic and beer magic.) A critical success made them decide we were their bestest friends. Afterward the mage cast Locate Tavern so we could bring the bandits to the nearest town.

    Or "Our mage is exposed and almost dead, my cleric's got lots of HP but only an useless divination spell... can I cast that, and try to make the casting look dramatic and menacing?"

    By contrast, some play sessions without such sublimity have been twenty minutes of fun packed within four hours of gameplay.

    Thanks, PetrusOctavianus. Sounds slightly nifty, I guess I'll add this to The List of RPGs to go through when I get the itch.

  9. Onward to Glory!
    Let the people of New Phlan rejoice! Lame Brain has come to save them for reasonable rates!

    His fire-based spells and shining sword shall sweep away the scum in the ruins like a broom sweeping away the dust! Behold his glorious golden locks! Behold his heroic visage! Behold his bold chainmail!

    He shall defeat the enemies that plauge this fair city! (Other people will probably help. A bit.)

  10. That map leaves out a few games. Gateway to the Savage Frontier and Treasures of the Savage Frontier are both Gold Box games, set in the northern Sword Coast region, near Neverwinter and surrounding area.

    Menzoberranzan starts off in Icewind Dale, though it goes well below the map. There's also the unknown dungeon in Dungeon Hack, which is titles as a Forgotten Realms game, and I'm not entirely certain all three EotB games are in the same area.

  11. Eye of the Beholder 3 takes place in Myth Drannor (near Daggerdale)as does Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor.
    NWN2-Mask of the Betrayer in Rashemen (Far to the east of Phlan).
    NWN2-Storm of Zehir starts in the southwest corner of the map, south of the big jungle.
    Good luck with PoR! I re-played it a few months ago and it is still one of my favourite games.


  12. "If you do have three or four friends who like D&D, you start to wonder about the choices you've made."

    Ha! Love it!

    One of the real secrets to PoR's charm I think is how you are not FORCED into a shitty situation to begin the game where you feel you had no say in how it came about. Your memory is intact (e.g., Curse of the Azure Bonds). You aren't stuck in a remote outpost needing to defend against endless hordes of monsters (e.g., Champions of Krynn). You are not locked/trapped/abducted (insert any # of CRPGs here).

    Instead, you have simply "elected" to lend your mercenary skills to gain your fame and fortune, and are given a safe haven (Civilized area of Phlan) to do this from. You might say that the game's initial premise is "non-linear", or that there is a perceived "freedom" right from the beginning, and is well maintained throughout, and it is this quality that promotes a sense of excitement and adventure that many subsequent RPGs lacked.

    I still recall the feeling I got as a 12 yr old when I first found my way out of the slums and onto the wilderness screen.

  13. PetrusOctavianus, about an earlier game with monsters/NPCs fighting on your side without being actively charmed to do so - Adventure Construction Set (although as the RPGAddict noted it's more of an adventure game than an RPG) had this (as did the programmer's previous efforts, The Return of Heracles & Ali Baba and the Forty Theives, which used very similar engines).

    Monsters/NPCs could be neutral, evil or good. Good and evil will always fight each other when on the same screen (or one might run away - there was also an aggressive/passive flag regulating each being's behavior). Neutral could join the fray if attacked first.

    So if there were good-aligned NPCs/creatures around, and you timed things right (ie they didn't wander off), you could have extra combatants on your side. Also, and more amusingly, involved NPC vs NPC or creature vs. creature fights could erupt quite independent of what you were doing (though, given the slowness of the game engine on the native hardware, that amusement could turn to tedium - much more bearable on an emulator...)

  14. Did anybody catch the episode of Community this season where the whole episode was a D&D role-playing adventure. I at least got a couple of laughs off of it. Looking forward, as always, to the excellent adventures of the addict in New Phlan!

  15. Glad you approve, Petrus. (I just hope you don't actually dress like that.) On the mage thing, you're probably right. I couldn't remember how important they were to the game. I might ditch one for a pure mage (did we really call them "magic users" back then?) depending on how fast they level.

    UbAh, you're right, of course. I shouldn't have said that open-endedness and flexibility are the "only thing" lacking in CRPGs vs. RPGs.

    Lame Brain, I can't believe I made you LAWFUL neutral.

    I probably left out a lot of other games on the map. I wasn't trying to be exhaustive, just to give a relative sense of locations.

    I finished expelling bugbears from the old city tonight (I'm a few postings behind my gameplay), and the game really is a lot of fun.

  16. Haha. Magic-users. I don't remember when I realized just how stupid that sounds, but I do know that it took a long time before I stopped calling them magic-users.

    Even as someone who was a dedicated pen-and-paper D&D player for many years, I find your assessment of the game pretty darn accurate.

    "Pen-and-paper roleplaying takes too damned long. By the time you get to the location, get settled, open the chips, pour the drinks, get out the paperwork, roll characters for the new players, set up the campaign, and generally stop screwing around, hours have gone by. You can easily spend half a dozen sessions getting through a simple module."
    So true! I'd even say that is an understatement. When you said you had only played 8 or 10 sessions, my first thought was "what, like half of one adventure?"

    "It's tough to find a talented DM. If he's too imaginative, the game feels more like he's telling a story than you're playing. If he's too lenient, there's no challenge. If he's too inflexible, say goodbye to your character."
    I was a DM probably more often than I was a player, and I fell into all 3 of these categories. Sometimes I would be a very hard DM, then when it seemed the entire party was about to get killed, I'd quickly improvise some deus ex machina to turn it around. Then I'd vow that next session I wouldn't rely too much on dice rolls and the whole thing would seem too scripted.

    "If you don't have three or four friends who like D&D, you end up playing with strangers. If you do have three or four friends who like D&D, you start to wonder about the choices you've made."
    Yeah, and considering that my main group preferred to play the old "Basic" D&D rules (you know, where elves and dwarves were classes not races?), you can probably imagine how hard it was to add new players to the group!

  17. D&D should have gone with a theme: sword-users, lockpick-users, etc.

    I wonder how much overlap there really is between RPG players and CRPG players. Hardly anyone on this blog ever talks about regular RPGs. Maybe they don't really share much except for a few letters.

    Glad you got commenting working again.

    1. Well at least a couple. I'm a Tabletop-RPG player, from D&D red-box on (including the immortals set), to AD&D 2nd, and then to Palladium, Shadowrun, GURPS, Call of Cthulhu, World of Darkness, and these days FATE and other indie games.

      Your jokes about tabletop gaming is pretty accurate, you sure you only played a handful of sessions?

      Seriously though, if you get a good group of friends in the right game, there is no more fun to be had in the whole world (some beer and pizza helps too).

      I suspect you are right though, the real thing is very different from the CRPG version. I'm not sure there is that much overlap in players.

      I mainly played these CRPGs in the 80's and early 90's when my tabletop gaming was less. These days I am not really that interested in CRPGs, aside from a hobby project to create a retro-style CRPG on Android.

      Probably though there are a few that play both styles of game here, although considering that TRPGs are even more 'geeky' than CRPGs, it's probably a sense of self-preservation that encourages them to spare you from their multitude of anecdotes ;)

    2. What interests me is that I'd rather trust my RPG-playing fun to some anonymous basement-dwelling developer (or, alternatively, to some faceless corporate shill) rather than a friend sitting across the table from me. Maybe 'cause the former feels easier to criticize and quit when you've had enough?

    3. They are fairly different activities: CRPGs are solitary activities, while tabletop games are very, very social games. Almost none of them are designed to be played one-on-one and most seem to be aimed at 5-7 people!

      That said, my offer to spend 4 hours running a game on Google+ or Skype stands. I'm sure I can round up people given a week or so of warning, and I have a stack of intro adventures in various genres I can run.

    4. The sad thing is I would like to play more p&p but I just don't have the necessary people around. Sure I could look for a local club or something, there proably are more than enough, but I'd rather have my already limited social activity with my own friends.

    5. fireball: Have you looked online? There are lots of Google+ hangout games you could join, and if you want something that doesn't cut into your social schedule there are lots that do play-by-post, and even some play-by-email, where you only have to post once a day or less. It isn't as fun socailly, but on the other hand you can get some really nice tactical or roleplay moments due to having more time to think about what to do next.

    6. Thanks Canageek, I'll try looking into that.

    7. Cool, I can give you some community links if you email me at my username @gmail.com

    8. I think I post enough here to qualify as someone whose opinion is vaguely relevant, and I certainly think of CRPGs and table-top RPGs as two sides of the same coin. There was a time in my life when I gamed up to three times a week (two nights and all day Saturday), and at that same point I was spending hours on the other days playing CRPGs. I basically find RPGs of any type to be addicting in the same way some people find reading fiction or watching television to be addicting--like one of the best possible ways to pass my time if I am not working.

  18. Haha, you managed to make me exactly the same character I was when I played Pool of Raidance!

    In other news, I've updated the name generator yet again [found a typo in a bit of code that wasn't being used by any of the name templates yet, and made the F1 info more verbose.]


  19. I think there is definitely some overlap. For instance there are tons of rpg blogs out there and plenty of them will talk about video games from time to time.

    I think part of it might be age based. Table top players who were of age when D&D was first released didn't grow up with consoles and computers. On the other hand some younger rpg players are playing rpgs because they first played crpgs and liked the genre enough. Also there is a much larger market for computer/video games than there ever was for table top rpgs.

    I think more interesting might be the overlap of game designers for rpgs and video games. Many video game designers mention D&D as an influence. And it seems there are ton of rpg designers who went on to work in the video game industry and vice versa. You will hear D&D mentioned in a some Matt Chats interviews. I'm not gonna give a bunch of examples, but there is a lot of crossover. You also need to look no further than fellow reader and indie game developer Rampant Coyote, who has blogged quite a few times about rpgs. And if I'm not mistaken, I think he did some work for Necromancer Games on some adventure modules?

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. I'm glad I'm not the only tabletop roleplayer here! Though I seem to be one of the only ones still playing.
    Alright, some background: My Dad has been playing D&D since the 70s or so, and I grew up reading his rulebooks and having him read me the hobbit and with giant bookshelves of fantasy and SF books. So anyway, when I was old enough (Grade 5 I think) he started DMing games from time to time for my friends and I, and I started playing heavily both with him and with my friends when I hit high school. We did the convention scene a lot, and got heavily involved in the Living Greyhawk organized play game until that ended. Right now I'm setting up a game of RuneQuest (using the OpenQuest rules) on IRC, and am attending a weekly GURPS game. I've played a *lot* of games, with a *lot* of different people so yeah, Tabletop RPGs are my forte.

    It sounds like your experience is with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) or 2nd Edition AD&D (Came out in 1988, so I think most gold box games are based on it), the system that the Gold Box games are based on. AD&D was an OK system at the time, and 2nd edition AD&D was the first game I played. However it is really old by today's standards. Most games have much cleaner rules, even the more complex ones, by using the same mechanic for most things. 3rd and 4th edition D&D are out, both of which are more complex, but simpler in many areas- I'll not try to claim which is better.

    However I prefer games based on the Basic Roleplay system (BRP)- It is very simple in *most* of its versions, you have various skills and you use d% (2 ten sided dice, one numbered 10-100, one numbered 1-10) and try and roll under that skill. If I'm in dought as to a rule I make the players role against that or one of their stats (Ok, you also have strength and whatnot for when skills don't apply). There is a 300 page rulebook, but honestly 90% of it is optional rules I don't use or sample adventures. You only need like the first 20 pages. There are versions of this game that fit in a 10 page booklet. Runequest is based on this systems, and in some versions is very complex, in some (Openquest) very simple, as I hate stopping play to look up something while my players are looking at me. My other game is GURPS, which I don't really know, I just started playing it, but it is known for being complex, but really in play we've not hauled out the rulebook ones since it boils down to 'roll 3d6 under your skill, possibly with a bonus or penalty the DM will tell you'. So yeah, it is easily possible to play without referring to the rulebook.
    There are other RPGs that fit on a sheet of paper, or
    That said, I've often wondered why CRPGs don't use more complex systems: GURPS character creation is a huge timesink, but allows crazy flexibility, why don't CRPG designers use these type of options? Only Fallout & Arcanum seem to have this type of complexity, along with some rouglikes. Or in combat, there are some RPGS (FUZION) that are just far too complex to actually play (You should not have to determine windspeed for each bullet, barrel length and so on) that would be simple if done with a computer. However, now I'm rather off topic.

    (Post deleted and replaced with the spellchecked version)

  22. Alright, next point: Setup time. This is really a function of your group. With my home group back in Ontario I regularly expect certain group members to arrive upwards of 2 hours late, however with my group out here in BC I arrive at 6, coming in straight from work and we are playing in about 5 min so that we can get in a decent 3-4 hours before we all have to go to be up for work the next morning. Really it is all about your playstyle. I like a bit of decompression at the start, but not a whole tonne of tabletalk in the middle.

    As for advantage...you can do anything in a tabletop RPG with a good DM. In our last game session we figured out that one of the NPCs wasn't involved by slipping a photo of the crimescene under their door and then listening in when they found it and talked to their lover about what the hell it was. Not exactly what the DM intended, but it worked (we think). In a CRPG, ever a really good one like Baulder's Gate, Fallout 3 or Arcanum your options are very limited, it has to be something the designer thought up. In a good tabletop RPG...they aren't.

    As to time: That is the biggest issue. I don't really game much at all during the school year, though I do have a gaming group that plays once a month or so. In the past I've played Play-by-post games done through an internet forum, so each person logs in and posts what they are going to do once a day or so. Very slow playstyle but one that allows you a lot of flexibility. There are also more and more groups using software ranging from IRC+ a dicebot to complex programs like maptools, Virtual Tabletop and OpenRPG to play over the internet, so all you have to do is find good players somewhere in the world with a compatible time schedule. I'm running a game like this right now, hoping to start this weekend. (As a note if anyone is interested in a basic dungeoncrawl with the twist that you are modern people descending into dungeons in front of a televised audience give me a shout: My email is the name I post under @gmail.com, or drop a comment on my blog.)

    Anyway, I've now written a *lot* and am probably boring you all to tears, so I'll stop, however expect me to be *very* active in games based on tabletop RPGS. I also recommend hunting down a old Players Handbook for using the rules- they probably explain multiclassing and duelclassing better then the rulebook (Both of which have been very much improved in more recent editions of D&D, and stupid racial level limits removed)

    ANYWAY, I've already had to split this over two blog comments, so I'm going to shut up now.

  23. Oh, and feel free to use any of the following names for me at some point:
    Canageek (Might break the mood)
    Dante (I liked a special on The Inferno, only to find some stupid action game popularized his name so I abandoned it as a screen name)
    Storm (Almost my name according to my parents, and much cooler then my real one)
    McKinnon (Parts of my name, though I'm not saying which parts for anonymity reasons)

    Whichever suits your fancy, provided you are not annoyed with me for cluttering your blog with thousand word ramblings.

  24. I'm pretty sure the Pool of Radiance at least was based on first edition AD&D. You can tell this by the magic user class. They changed this to mage in second edition. I'm not sure which edition the rest of the games use.

    As far as playing rpgs, It's been probably going on 20 years since I played any. And I was never a hard core player. But I did play a few systems, Champions, D&D, Gamma World, etc. I'm not opposed to ever playing again, just a time thing and getting enough like minded people together. As a side note, and you may already know this, but Fallout was originally based on GURPS, but due to some licensing issues they had to pull it at the last minute and create the SPECIAL system.

  25. Yep, I did know that, and GURPS would have been a *great* fit, so it is too bad it fell through.

  26. Addict: Missed your last comment: You should see the D&D booklets: Fighers were known as 'Fighting Men' and you had either a race or a class, not both. This comes from the wargaming roots (How many fighting men in your army? How many magic users? makes a lot more sense when talking about an army).

    Most, if not all, tabletop roleplayers I know also play computer games, or have in the past, though the extend and interest various widely. Drop by RPG.nets Video Game Open if you want proof of the cross over. Actually I should mention your blog there, I bet a bunch of people will be interested in it. Hmm. *contemplates making you a FPP on metafilter*

  27. About table top RPGs versus CRPGs, another thing to consider is that AD&D seems to have been mostly an American thing. You can find references to it, and people playing it, in American movies and TV shows, but I don't recall ever seeing it in British movies and TV shows.

    Personally I dreamed of playing it when I grew up in Norway in the eighties, but none of my friends were interested in fantasy, and by the time I got enough friends, and friends of friends, to play, it was too late. I was in my twenties and the sense of wonder had gone, and I found the other players to be either too serious about it or not serious enough. In the meantime I got my fantasy role playing fix from play-by-mail games like Adventurer Kings and Legends, which offered more advanced play than computer games.

    And regarding games designers, Pool of Radiance was the only of the Gold Box games to be designes by "real" professional designers from TSR. I still think PoR was the best designed game of the lot.

  28. I've heard it was decently big in Germany as well, though the game was't D&D, it was The Dark Eye or somesuch. In Britain the game of choice I hear was Warhammer Fantasy RPG.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I felt my first reply was wrong in what I was trying to say, so here is the corrected version:

      Well, The Dark Eye (Das schwarze Auge) is a different game and is the main competitor of D&D here, as somebody said further down. I don't know exactly but I think it's even more popular. There even was (or still is?) a "fandom war" going on between DSA and D&D players. Personally I prefere D&D because of the huge campaign settings presented. I'm totally a fan of Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance, but also liked Dark Sun and others. Like the addict I haven't had the chance to play much of these, but there's still so much to discover in the campaign's books and novels.

      That's not to say I think DSA is bad, it surely isn't. When it comes to their cprg representations I especially like the Drakensang games very much.

    3. fireball: I've read some modern reviews of Das schwarze Auge, and as I recall most of them found it didn't hold up very well to modern games, though I'm sure it was good back in the day.

      Stargazer talks about it a bit here, though he has a more positive opinion of it: http://www.stargazersworld.com/2012/05/22/german-roleplaying-games/

  29. I can't speak for PoR specifically when it comes to the TSR guys who worked on it. But as a whole there are ton of people who have crossed over both ways. A couple of examples, Sandy Petersen, the author of Call of Cthulhu for Chaosium, went on to work on a bunch of games for Microprose, including their crpg Darklands. He also worked for id and ensemble on a number of titles. Ken St Andre, creator of Tunnels and Trolls worked with Interplay on Wasteland. Ryan Dancey former Wotc employee for a time was working for CCP/White Wolf. I don't know his exact position there, but they run Eve online and are working on a World of Darkness MMORPG. Sean K Reynolds I believe worked for Interplay or EA for a time, then went over to Wotc and now Paizo publishing working on pathfinder rpg.

    These are just a few notable examples, but there are tons of lesser known examples.

  30. Didn't Micheal A. Stackpole work on Wasteland as well? I remember seeing his name in a screenshot when reading a Let's Play on RPG.net. I tweeted Ken St. Andre about that a while back actually, he says his role was pretty minor.

    Sean K. Reynolds is also on twitter, just as a note.

    Dear lord, your addiction is rubbing off on me! It is almost midnight here and I can't stop replying to each comment as they come in!

  31. The German rpg you speak of is Das Schwarze Auge. Which I think translates to The Black Eye, but the English version is called the The Dark Eye. Notably there are a couple recent crpgs that use the system. The Drakensang games. I have played the first one quite a bit, and a kinda old school feel with lotsa stats. Combat kinda like a 3d Baldur's Gate, pausable real time. I think these can be had on steam for a decent price.

  32. Oh, and I think the Realms of Arkania games were based on the Das Schwarze Auge rules.

  33. Hopefully Google/the 'net won't eat my comment this time. I've commented on your blog a lot more than shows up here, but something happens after I input the CAPTCHA... 2/3 of the time the post just... whisks... into the aether and I end up very frustrated and down. Sigh.

    Ennyway. I read your blog at any odd time, not just during the week. Not working, I have a lot of free time. So when you don't post, I end up all sad and lonely. Well, not really, but I do like reading your blog. a LOT. Never followed anyone before, and you're still the only one. Magic!

    My room mate way back when, when the gold box games first came out, solved each and every one of these as they arrived. I never could. I played a lot of the other games, but pre-1993 I spent my computer time on the c-64, then the Amiga... Only after 1993 did I splurge, break down, and buy an ibm pc clone. I've never been the same since :)

    One of the major problems I have trying to play crpgs these days isn't so much the time issue. Even taking care of my terminally ill wife leaves me with time. But I find it VERY difficult to concentrate. I've been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and that helps explain why I have such horrible concentration problems. Very irritating.

    I'm going to give this one another try, based on the fact that you are doing it. WHoo hoo. And I found the Windows port of Omega that not only shows the ASCII map in color, it also has a mode where it displays TILES.


  34. William, post a link for that version of omega please. I also have fibromyalgia, which I describe as having chronic pain to people who don't know about it, and I find that I can manage alot of the symptoms and brain fog by making sure I get eight hours of sleep.

    Warhammer Fantasy RPG, is what I play with my friends. The way I run it tends to be more low fantasy where the general populace has never seen magic and would likely burn a you as a witch if they saw it. It tends to have a much darker setting than D&D games in that the general feel is not one of overcoming evil but you are more trying to slow down the inevitable slide of the world into chaos and entropy.

    At least thats how I run it when we are sober, it tends to fall into hack and slash with lots of crazy humor when we drink and play. Drinking and playing is good fun if you have a group who already knows how to roleplay and those negatives you mention about things moving slow don't seam to matter much when your drinking with your friends and roleplaying is just something you do in a party like atmosphere.

  35. I don't know if this has been mentioned elsewhere, but there was a conversion done on Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds for FRUA (Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures). These were done by Ray Dyer who has an amazing list of modules he did based on old TSR module for the P&P versions of D&D.

    You can find all of his modules here: http://frua.rosedragon.org/modulelist/file.php

    The goldbox conversions are Game39 (Pool of Radiance) and Game40 (Curse of the Azure Bonds) His are the modules named "game00 - game40" and "gamer1 - gamer10" Truly wonderful modules for FRUA.

    You can learn more about these games over at the website The Realm: http://therealm.flopsyville.com/Menu.htm

    The Goldbox conversions are basically the same games, but with all of the added benefits of the FRUA engine and hack.

  36. Dig the groovy armor on the Phlan clerk. No wonder you dated her in the past! This is the most solid and enjoyable of all the gold box games. There is a simple quest, with many diversions, if you want. Plus there is the joy of making change to afford training or waiting for the computer to roll for 30 kobolds shooting arrows. Can't wait until you get to the creepy graveyard!

  37. UbAh: Ah, sleep is key? That could be a large part of my problem then. I have insomnnia & have a screwed up sleep pattern... I get about 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night. Usually because I go to bed about 3 hours before I have to get up for the day. Maybe I ought to rethink this sleep strategy, aye?

    Ennyway, the link for tiles Omega is http://freespace.virgin.net/davidk.kinder/omega.html and it's kinda cool! Best of luck!

  38. William, yes I used to have a very bad sleep pattern also. I went from working overnight in a NOC to a maintenance heavy on-call rotation in IT, which made it very hard for me to get the sleep I needed. It took me a while to train my body to be able to sleep 8 hours a night after years of abuse but man was it worth it.

    What I do now is after any maintenance or on-call outage I work I tell my boss and co-workers I will be in the office or online after 8 hours of sleep. In IT it was somewhat hard to get management to understand I needed to sleep 8 hours even if my overnight work was for 3-4 hours but I just stuck firm that it was my doctors orders to get 8 hours uninterrupted sleep and that the alternative was drugs that I don't tolerate well.

  39. Also, at http://uaf.sourceforge.net/index.html is a project called DungeonCraft, an open source program to bring the FRUA system to modern computers- produces "ready to play" adventures, no shell required to play.

  40. UbAh: Well, luckily for me I tolerate drugs very well ;) Seriously though, I am on quite a regimen of medications for my symptoms... which are, right now, only slightly under control. Sigh. I guess more sleep is key. Better get it done. Suck it up- I'm 48 years old! Man, how did THAT happen?

    I'm still gonna make a serious attempt at POR though.

  41. I honestly can't remember what rules we tried to follow when I played as a kid. All I remember is that it seemed like everyone at the table knew more about them than I did. Almost everything I tried to do devolved into a huge discussion and multiple dice rolls. It's hard to remember specifics. The conversations in my memory seem to go something like this:

    OTHER PLAYER: I'll atttack the orc with my sword!

    THE DM (rolling one die): The orc dies! Chet, what are you going to do?

    ME: I guess I'll look in the chest.

    [All the other players turn and stare at me in shock.]

    THE DM: Are you aware that the blah is active?

    ME: Uh, no. I guess I'll go stand in the corner, then.

    THE DM: Roll 4D8 to see if you successfully stand in the corner.

    OTHER PLAYER 2: Wait! Can he stand in the corner when he's wearing the blah of blah?

    [Everyone lets out a breath and ponders this for a minute or two.]

    OTHER PLAYER 1 (slowly): I think he can as long as blah hasn't happened.

    THE DM: Good point. Chet, roll 6D6 to see if blah happened.

    OTHER PLAYER 1: But he's also got the blah of blah.

    THE DM: Right. Roll 1D20 to see if the blah of blah cancels out the blah of blah so you can blah.

    OTHER PLAER 2: D20! The rules say D12!

    [15 minutes pass as we consult the manuals. Finally, I roll a bewildering set of dice.]

    THE DM: Chet, you're now standing in the corner. Other Player 2, what are you going to do?

    OTHER PLAYER 2: I'll use my Deck of Many Things!

    THE DM: You get a castle!


    So maybe it would have been interesting to check out other systems, but I didn't know about them back then, and today, there's no way I have time for pen-and-paper CRPGing. Anyway, Canageek, you didn't bore me--those were interesting insights, and they show that my experience wasn't universal. I probably just had bad fellow players and an incompetent DM. Oh, and if I use your name, it's probably going to be Keeganac. Sounds like a dwarf.

    Petrus: Since most American fantasy CRPGs are based vaguely on Medieval Europe, I rather expected that in Europe, you all played RPGs set in pseudo-Mayan civilizations ("Cuicuilcos and Quetzalcoatls?").

    JJ, she's okay, but I honestly don't remember what I saw in her. (Viconia has pretty much spoiled me for CRPG women, though.) Here's a question: who's the first CRPG character who's honestly attractive? Certainly none of my party member options. I'll try to notice that when it comes up.

    William & UbAh: glad you were able to trade some tips. My condolences on your wife, William. If Irene was sick, I don't think I'd be able to concentrate on CRPGs, either.

    1. The_Liquid_LaserMay 4, 2021 at 1:47 PM

      I LMAO reading this. I have definitely played with groups like this, and no, it is not fun.

      For me tabletop RPGs work really well when you have a DM (and hopefully players too) that are willing to just go in any direction. This doesn't mean necessarily that you leave the dungeon and find a second one somewhere else. It's more that you can make decisions that the adventure never planned for. For example, in one adventure I was supposed to clear out an ancient castle of monsters, so that the guy who hired me could be king over this castle he inherited. One of the monsters was a werewolf that I subdued, even though the adventure planned on me killing him. It turns out the werewolf was the bastard half-brother of the guy who hired me. I decided to make him king of the castle once the adventure was over instead of the guy who hired me.

      That is how tabletop RPGs are supposed to go when you have a DM that "gets it". It's supposed to be an open ended kind of adventure. Things can happen that no one can possibly plan for, and that is why you have a DM instead of a computer game.

    2. Is that idea of an ideal DM universal, though? I feel like there are some tabletop players who prefer the hard-math wargaming roots.

    3. No, this is not universal (although I prefer it too). Buying and playing pre-made adventures is very popular, and these adventures are almost always somewhere between "moderately linear" and "entirely a railroad".

      And, well, some players prefer being given a clear goal instead of having freedom to do anything. This is also why there's a market for CRPGs in both the linear and the sandbox style.

    4. The_Liquid_LaserMay 4, 2021 at 3:09 PM

      Let's say half of DnD players tend to prefer the story/role-playing parts and the other half prefer the tactical combat part more. In my experience both groups (overall) tend to prefer a flexible GM, especially once they understand the game can be played that way. For example a tactical player might attack the supports of a building to collapse it on his enemies. Then the DM tells him whether his attempt succeeded or failed, and of course if it succeeds then the player defeats his enemies in that building. An inflexible DM would just say, "sorry, there are no rules for that, so you can't try it (or your attempt automatically fails)."

      The inflexible DM is basically like a computer as far as I can tell. A computer can do anything that the program/rules explicitly planned for. However, the computer can make all of these decisions faster, more efficiently and more reliably. However, a flexible DM can make rulings on situations that were never planned for, and potentially anything can happen. The game becomes a lot more spontaneous that way, even if everyone agrees to go to this one fairly straightforward dungeon that the DM prepared. Obviously an open level design is nice, but I am talking more about an open rules design. D&D has lots of open spells like polymorph where you can turn any creature into any other creature. It's hard to plan for that, so it's better to just have a DM who is willing to adapt to any situation.

      I have encountered players and DMs which seem to prefer an inflexible game, but I don't think that is where tabletop games shine. As I said, a computer can run this type of game better. However computers can't really be flexible as I described, while a human being can be.

    5. I don't know that I can necessarily guarantee it's absolutely universal, but yes, I'd say that idea is pretty widespread. Much of the appeal of (tabletop) RPGs is that you can (or should be able to) do anything you want, and even the mathiest of tabletop RPGs (and there are some that involve very little math) still acknowledge that there are times it may be best for the DM to go off book and improvise if something happens not covered by the rules. Even from the beginning, D&D was intentionally a lot more open-ended than a standard wargame; it may have originated from a supplementary ruleset to a wargame, but it diverged pretty sharply from that origin pretty early on. And of course many other RPGs since have taken things even farther from those origins.

      There may be players who prefer hard-math wargaming-type gameplay, but it's likely that those players prefer to just, well, play wargames, since those still exist.

      (It's also worth noting that if you're only familiar with CRPGs, it may give you a somewhat distorted idea of what tabletop RPGs are like. Even in the most combat-heavy tabletop RPG the PCs are going to be involved in way fewer combats in a campaign than in a typical CRPG. Of course, part of that is that combat can take a lot longer; in some of the more rules-heavy RPG systems a single combat may take a few hours to resolve. But it's also because they're more open-ended so there's a lot more you can do besides combat; in the D&D campaigns I ran in college it wasn't uncommon for entire multi-hour sessions to go by with little or no combat and relative few die rolls, focusing on character interaction, exploration, and plot development.)

    6. I mean coming up with rules on the spot for things the ruleset didn't anticipate isn't really going against the rules. You're just expanding things. And usually the spontaneously made up rule is based on the existing rules anyway. Some D&D spells are even described in a way to make them very flexible and leaves it in the hands of the GM on how to treat them.

      Therefore, I really don't understand inflexible GMs. "No, you can't destroy the support beams of the buildings and make it collapse because it's not in the rules." Really? But there are rules for having hitpoints on objects and being able to destroy such objects. Also the game assumes real world physics, unless magic is involved. Just slap hitpoints on the beams and apply the real world physics of "unsupported roofs fall down" and it's well within the intended ruleset.

      I've only had flexible DMs, and I would probably grow frustrated very quickly with a rigid DM.

    7. I would say that the ideal GM varies a *lot* with group, and honestly trying to sort them into categories is fractal. I mean, players can't agree on what makes a good game, let along what makes a good DM.

      There are certainly still plenty of the old school type you describe, both players and DMs (Google "Old School Renaissance". It mostly self-destructed about a decade ago, but there are still people playing and making games to fit that style. The appeal there is the DMs creativity in creating the adventure and responding to player actions. So they might never vary from their notes, they can still respond to players doing things that a computer would never have thought of. (For example, the famous story about a group of players driving cattle through The Tomb of Horrors, whether real or not.) But even within that group, you've got the "The DM should be able to make everything up on the fly as needed" and the "The DM should strictly follow the notes and dice rolls" groups.

      Then you've got the players who love the DM who can tell a story. Now, you can still split players who like this DM into two more groups (and wow, do these two groups have some fights). You've got the players who want the DM (and rest of the group to collaborate) on the story, and really see the dice as props that should be ignored if it is going to make the story better. So if the fighter the prophacy is about fails a saving throw in round one of the fight against the dragon, due to rolling a one? Just ignore that for the sake of the story. Then there are the "let the dice fall where they may" story folks. They still want grand stories, but they want to keep true to the dice, and work the results into the narrative. In the above case, obviously there was a mistake with the prophacy and the next adventure will involve figuring that out.

      Then you've got the world-builders, which I count my current (excellent) GM as. They focus less on the story, and more on a detailed world, having it and the people in it realistically react to the players, etc- if this makes a good story is up to the players.

  42. I was always fond of Alias from the cover of COTAB (though admittedly her in-game presence is nothing special).

  43. William & UbAh: My sympathies, a former lover of mine and very dear friend to this day suffers from fibromyalgia. Very sorry to hear about your wife, William.

    CRPGAddict: It would be very interesting to hear your opinions on some game systems as someone who knows a ton about RPG mechanics but doesn't play tabletop RPGs. I wish I could think of a way that didn't involve either me making a cut-down version of the rulebooks or you reading a 300 page rulebook.

  44. Interesting D&D insights everyone. Chet, I agree 100% with your evaluation of tabletop RPG : I can read statistics & rules in a D&D manual for hours, but have neither the time/friends/sustained interest to actually play a long game. "C"RPGs fix a lot of these issues, for me at least.

    If anyone understands french, there is a great D&D audio parody series made by penofchaos at http://www.penofchaos.com/warham/donjon-telecharge.htm. The guy started by doing all voices and mixing himself in his bedroom and the first season is truly first-class material with great humor. The quality drops after that unfortunately, and it now became a big business, with licensed comics, t-shirts, tabletop games and whatnot.

  45. I play tabletop and electronic.

    Its just VASTLY easier to play electronic, especially in a generally antisocial area like Connecticut is.

    Though its funny. Pool of Radiance is what I used to get to buy actual D&D products. I was buying stuff like Runequest and Battletech beforehand but my dumb mother believed all the scaremongering of that infamous 60 Minutes article so NO DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.

    I borrowed a copy from someone at school after like 2 years of pestering (and reading the novels and Dragon Magazine. It didn't say D&D on the cover after all. Though I did borrow the actual books a few times. My first acts of rebellion as an otherwise overly well behaved boy.) and pretty much said "Look at this game. Ill play it for a bit. If you can find anything Satanic or that would cause me to kill myself I won't ever mention it again otherwise I want to buy and play D&D".

    Obviously they saw NOTHING.

    Though my parents were both pretty dumb I probably could have gotten away with it anyhow.

    But getting actual tabletop RPGs going is a massive pain in the ass. Honestly its easier to get a relationship (romantic) going than it is to get a fun, thriving, consistent RPG campaign going.

  46. Yes, as with anything, the key is to get a good group of people. There needs to be a willingness to relax and work together to make it fun, if you get one person that wants to be selfish and derail the process then its better to stop the game pour a few drinks and discuss the need to work together and be a little more laid back. Many people forget it is a game so its important to remind them.

    BTW posting at odd hours because I am on call this week and things keep breaking. It is this glamorous life that is why us IT geeks get all the babes.

  47. Throw me in under another of the crpg fan who also does tabletop gaming, though I am a recent convert. I have a group of good friends who have done it before, and I joined about 3 months ago. It's been a blast.

    As several others have mentioned there are many more open options than a crpg could hope to simulate. One time we were facing a giant gnoll who couldnearly one hit kill any member of our party. Rather than just fight him directly, I caused several distractions with the aid of our sorceress, while our rouge planted explosives at the base of the cliff we were fighting at. I used sone magic (dancing lights) to draw the gnolls attention while the party retreated from the ensuing avalanche. Dead giant gnoll.

    Another where a group of poltergeists played catch with our gnome druid (me). Next time we saw ghosts, I decided that the event had caused me paranoia so I started lighting everything on fire as I chased after the ghosts. From then on 'tossing the gnome' became a recurring gag.

    A great crpg will have a few options like this, a good pen and paper one will only be limited by your imaginations.


  48. I appreciate that. I don't think we were quite as creative when I was playing as a kid. I probably didn't have a "real" tabletop gaming experience.

  49. Nah, just a very specific one. You played in one of the most common playstyles among youngsters and people new to the hobby.

  50. In this game, has anyone else found the 'Cloak of Elvenkind'?

    It is a cloak and when you equip it, casts the invisibility spell on you. Of course when you attack, the spell is broken, but i'm sure that you could unequip and equip it again to get it cast on you.

    I got this item from the random loot area in the Kobold cave next to the 'Wyvern' cave.

    I only discovered that the item exists years after the games release date and after finishing it a few times.

    I've tried 'grinding' for the item - DOSbox -> save state -> step into 'loot area' -> (no cloak) -> load state -> repeat but after an hour I gave up.

    Has anyone got a save game with a character this item? It would be found in their items file.

    I don't think there is any place in the game which gives this loot by default, which is why I was surprised it even existed.

    Finally, after years of playing, two other things surprised me:
    1) The existence of the command line extras (let you bypass the intro, copy protection check, etc)

    2) The existence of the DEV MODE which let you spawn in a special area with access to all the items. I've tried to find more info on this but can't Google hard enough. Details of the DEV MODE is in the discussions section of the PoR Wikipedia article.

    1. Hello, I have a character who has found a perfectly working, fully automatized Cloak of Elvenkind. It was with the trolls tossing sacks of grains. If you would like to have a copy of that, please send me an e-mail, the address is: zagorszk@freemail.hu
      This cloak is similar to blink spell, but automatically casts invisibility on the wearer at the beginning of each turn. So delay until everyone steps, then strike, and enjoy the automatically bestowed invisibility in the next round even when it is not you who won the initiative. N

    2. Greets,

      could you, or someone explain how to use DosBox save states properly?

      Trying to select items from random loots with save states, but by loading a save state (created before ending a tough battle), the loot always remains the same. As if it remained in the memory-capture of DosBox's save state unchangably.

      (e.g. in Pool of Radiance, at wizard Ohlo in the slums.
      Of course if normally reloading a saved game, that randomizes loot nicely)

      Thanx for any enlightment.

      (Using DOSBox SVN-Daum with special features Nov. 17. 2013
      ykhwong's SVN-Daum builds can be obtained from http://ykhwong.x-y.net. (DOSBox Daum Cafe build) )

    3. I don't use a DOSBox version that allows save states, but I've found while using them in other emulators (Apple II, Amiga) that it makes a big difference when the game does the random rolls for combat, loot, or what have you. In your case, it sounds like the game is rolling the "random" loot before the point at which you capture the save state, so there's really nothing that the emulator can do to change that.

    4. So Could someone plz explain pros / cons between rare item Cloak of Elvenkind and standard "Bilbo's" Ring of Invisiblity in GoldBoxes, along with some fine usage / tactics proposals?

  51. Heres a bit of trivia that was passed on to me by one of the game designers.

    During character generation, resist the urge to manually modify your character. Why? All the gold box games levy some sort of small penalty to gameplay based on how many or how much a stat was tinkered with. I forger what exactly the factors are. but according to the designer all those players with 18+ everything were getting penalized.

    Here is another neet one that few seem to ever realize.
    In the game certain characters, I believe the Dwarf only, can by an in game event and transferring to the next in the series, eventually gain enough Constitution to start regenerating. Yes. They secretly coded in the actual AD&D stat bonuses where possible. It takes alot of effort, but can come in really handy when you have at least one character who is really hard to kill. I found it out by accident.

    I've got a hint/tip entry somewhere in Dragon Magazine for think Azure Bonds.

    1. This is great intel. I'm glad I didn't succumb.

    2. Hello, what you are saying is true, there is regeneration, but it is not necessary to have a dwarf or a gnome with con 19. If you play PoR you will find in the library of Mendor a manual of bodily health that can grant you after 30-32 days of complete rest +1 point increase in constitution score, even if your character is an elf. Having the already reached score of 19 in Constitution, continue playing in Curse of the Azure Bonds. Early in the game in the sewers full of trolls and crocodiles, there's a girdle of the dwarves. After putting it on (beware, the hp of converted characters go mad due to conversion errors) the constitution score is temporarily raised to 20. Now you can remove the girdle and pass it on to the next player character, because from now on you are bestowed with the benefit of a slow regeneration, 1 hp/6 turns=1 hour.

    3. Here's a tip for you. You can import a character you loaded up with all the good loot from a prior game. I personally like the Ring of Invisibility, Necklace of Missiles, and the Manual of Bodily Health. You can save that game as J, let the character leave the party, and save it as B when you escape to DOS to restart the game. Import to game A, unload the guy, let him go, and save A, REPEAT. If you pass and use the Manual of Bodily Health on a character, that character will heal like a troll. You just need to search a bit and he will recover to 100 percent EVEN if affected by the mummy's dreaded disease. The down side is you should only do this on a fully trained character as the HP gains from leveling up are cut if you do it. ALSO, if you max out the team, expect the game to throw everything at you but the kitchen sink. Those puny orcs and goblin parties will become armies.

  52. Pool of Radiance definitely reacts to 18s across the board. Random encounters feature larger groups of monsters. It's not much of a penalty compared to the gains you get from modifying. I didn't notice penalties in the other games, though that's not to say they weren't there.

    I maxed all my characters in my teens; these days I go to great lengths to try to create the sorts of characters that the devs expected people to use.

    1. 20 con gives pretty slow regen, 1/min or something. A nice touch to implement it but not that meaningful gameplay wise.

  53. Looks like my first attempt disappeared. Cut to the chase, where did you get a copy of this game and the related material? If its being sold somewhere I would like to buy it to support those who made it. If its from a website offering abandoned games, which one? I am cautious about downloading from websites I am not familiar with.

    1. I really don't talk about where I get the games I play. Suffice to say, I pay for them when I can, and when I can't, it isn't very hard.

    2. None of the GB games are currently for sale, but all of them are availabe from various abandonware sites. If an abandonware site has a link to GOG, and won't themselves offer games that GOG sells, I'd say they are safe to download from.

    3. Since august 20 2015 GOG.com sells a number of GoldBox games:
      Forgotten Realms The Archives Collection One Includes Eye of Beholder trilogy

      Forgotten Realms The Archives Collection Two Includes POR and more

      Forgotten Realms The Archives Collection Three Includes Dungeon Hack and Menzoberranzan

      I post the links here becouse it could be hard to find those games on GOG site since the search engine dosn't respond for specific titles in the collections, only for whole collection name.

  54. Such a great game. I played it for hours and hours on my C64. I remember hacking the codes to so I wouldn't have to use that code wheel anymore, changed the word to DRAGON for every possible code. I think I ended up getting the hint book, which was really a solve the game book more than just a hint book. Got my money's worth, that's for sure. I think I even used the same characters through Pools of Darkness.

  55. I've replayed COK, DKK, DQK, POR and now im on Curse of the Azure Bonds and for now POR is probably the best of the goldbox. While i prefer the world of Krynn (but i do not dislike FR either) i think POR stands above others. Some goldbox games feel like a "mission pack" while POR feels like a full campaign which is probably why they have exaggerated in giving magical weapons (+5 weap? +3 as common? bit too much for such low levels IMO).

  56. So I have been trying this game and it does seem really awesome, but I am cheating slightly by your rules. Using the Gold Box Companion so I don't have to worry about race/class restrictions or racial level limits. It also adds the fix command to PoR but I didn't realize it was hex editing to heal the characters so I was healing in areas I shouldn't have been able to. Knowing this I have decided to restart but I can't find out where to go online for advice, I created my characters using the modify command to do a point buy to get the stats I wanted. From reading the comments on your blog I see the modify command can make it harder on yourself. So can anybody tell me or point me to where I can find out the minimum stats I should try to roll for each class. I am planning to take these characters through the series.

    1. I'm not sure the whole "modified stats make the gamer harder" thing isn't a myth, or at least something that was only implemented on a couple of platforms. I think it's a little lame to modify your stats that way, but it probably won't actually hurt you.

      Even though I went with straight rolls for this play-through, in previous times playing the game I modified my statistics with abandon and I seem to remember it was far easier.

    2. There are drastic advantages to modifying your stats in any Gold Box game, to the point that a "pure" play through, in which you randomly roll stats, will be significantly harder than a "traditional" play through, in which you mod everything to max at start.

      Basically, for fighters, paladins and rangers HP boosts break down like this:

      Con 15: +1 hp per level
      Con 16: +2 hp per level
      Con 17: +3 hp per level (+2 for any other class)
      Con 18: +4 hp per level (+2 for any other class)

      So, a first level fighter, with an "average" con of 13, with randomly rolled hit points would have 5.5 hp (lets round it to 6).

      A first level fighter modified to a Con of 18 and maximum HP would have 14 HP. 2.33X the "pure" amount.

      You also have to note that without a CON bonus you can get 1 HP upon gaining a level. A Con of 18 gives you a range of 5-14, with an average of 9.5, instead of 5.5.

      This extends to any combat related stats.

      Dex 15 -1 (bonus) to AC
      Dex 16 -2 (bonus) to AC
      Dex 17 -3 (bonus) to AC
      Dex 18 -4 (bonus) to AC

      A first level fighter in chain mail with a shield, normally has an AC of 4. Don't have the tables handy, but IIRC that means he gets hit by a level 1 creature 30% of the time, e.g. on a D20 "roll" of 15-20.

      With a Dex of 18, his AC moves to 0, which means he's hit 10% of the time, a 19-20 on a D20; 1/3rd as much.

      Strength really is game breaking. Non-fighters cap at 18 Str, fighters cap at 18/00 naturally.

      Str 16 +0 hit, +1 damage
      Str 17 +1 hit, +1 damage
      Str 18 +1 hit, +2 damage
      Str 18/50 +1 hit, +3 damage
      Str 18/75 +2 hit, +3 damage
      Str 18/90 +2 hit, +4 damage
      Str 18/99 +2 hit, +5 damage
      Str 18/00 +3 hit, +6 damage

      A pair of fighters with natural 18/00 strength, in the earlier games, drastically changes things. Long sword damage goes from 1-8, average 4.5, to 7-14, average 10.5.

      You literally can't tune for A without B being overpowered. If you tune for B, A is completely anemic.

      So...yeah....unless you roll until you get 18 in every stat, modifying everything to 18 is significantly easier.

    3. Exactly what I was looking for, over the past hour. Thank you!!

    4. Null Null, who I believe is a commenter on this blog, gives a break down of how your characters will affect the game here: https://rpgcodex.net/forums/threads/lets-play-pool-of-radiance-with-one-character.129308/

      I believe Pool of Radiance was the only game that did this, future Goldbox games dropped it.

    5. That's a very enjoyable thread. The whole "party strength" system is a lot more complex than I would have expected.

  57. Heya Chet, I finally finished the NES version of this game. Summary, it has nothing unique to offer, and is a bastardized port of a great game. Still good in its own right for the time on the console, but it fails in live up to the name. My full review starts http://allconsolerpgs.blogspot.com/2016/03/game-53-pool-of-radiance-nes-getting-my.html

    Going post by post to note the differences here's what I have for this one:
    1) races are much more limited (dwarf is only allowed fighter, gnome can only be a thief)
    2) there's no figher/thief combination outside the elf figher/m-u/thief
    3) there's no selection or modification to stats (I had fun rerolling for over an hour) or character combat icon
    4) there are only five characters allowed in the party (with a sixth slot for named NPCs)
    5) there's no adventurers journal, which might have actually saved some space on the cart to include what's missing

    I'm also making my way through william's posts for comparison.

  58. This game was well before my time, but playing through it now, I'm seeing a lot of similarities mechanically with one of the first rpgs I ever played, and another game on your future list, Realmz.

    Looking forward to seeing you someday make it to 1994, and when you do, I'll be re-playing Realmz alongside you.

  59. I agree about part of the game's charm having to do with the "modesty" of it. I just started playing this and for me performing a series of localized missions seems much more meaningful and fulfilling as though you were making an actual difference in these people's lives. The episodic nature of it gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Are there any other games with a similar structure that you would recommend?

    I'm really enjoying your blog. I grew up in the 80s and although my friends and I played tabletop games quite often I personally never really got into pc gaming until recently. I bought PoR and a bunch of other classic RPGs from GOG and having a blast making up for lost time. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Both Baldur's Gates, and Planescape: Torment have a lot of local-newspaper style quests and personal vignettes to interact with. Same goes for Fallout 1 and 2. All were released during the '97-'00 period.

    2. Thanks, Tristan. I've been meaning to play those eventually (especially BG and PT) so I appreciate the suggestions.

  60. About PnP RPG. For start- I truly love tabletop RPG. I'm playing it for many years as a player and as a game master. It is true that organizing a good group and good meeting consumes a lot of effort. For me designing an angaging and polished adventure takes about a week. But it is worth it. (And, in fact, sailing or touristic trip with friends is much more time-demanding).

    But to the point. PnP RPG has one main advantage, becouse of which no computer game can be comparable: the oportunity to real role playing. In cRPG the player has to play an imposed role. In Baldur's Gate you will never fully feel that you play, say, dwarven assasin. You could get one or two class-dependant quests but most of your actions are adventures of Son of Bhaal from Candlekeep, not Gimli the Elf-Killer (or anyone else). Good game master can adjust plot to players characters, their stories, professions and likes. PC game can not. It is one of the reasons I can not uderstand people who play pre-made modules- it is horrible loss of potential.

    In PnP RPG there are uncounted ways to deal with chalanges, you are not limited by the game engine. Your party is traped in a gass room? So you can break the wall to escape (if someone is strong enough). You can disarm the trap (if someone has disarming skills). You can persuade your way out (if someone is charismatic). Or you can do one of thousends of thousends other actions, dependent only on your imagination and your previous adventures. The reactiviti of the game world with a good game master is something priceless.

    On some fields cRPG games are better. For example tactical combat compliant with rules is a cumbersome thing during PnP sessions. All thouse calculations, adding modifieres, bonuses-to-hit, bla, bla, bla- it is waste of time and computer does it better. But for the good game master all mechanics are only a support. You roll the dice from time to time to build some tension, sure, but that's it. If you try to play PnP RPG like a cRPG game or a board game (using pre-made modules, sticking to the rules, fighting lots of battles) it is waste of time. But if you use the capabilities of this type of entertainment you will have a great time with your friends (or you will meet new friends :). Of course a lot of meetings will be a boring disaster (becouse GM has a bad day, bocuse somone did not come, becuse you are not in the mood...) but well... It's just like dating- you will not always experience something wonderful. But it is worth trying.

  61. My next-door neighbour and I played this so much, we'd memorized the codes from the codewheel (despite lots of potential permutations, the game only appeared to use a dozen of them). In fact, when I fired it up on DOSbox a decade later, I found I still could remember a good half of them.

  62. I've been playing the NES version of this game, partly from curiosity and partly to dissect it for RetroAchievements.org.

    - You can only have five party members and one NPC, down from the six players and one NPC in the original. The "Modify" function is missing.

    - All AD&D rules are present and functioning, including treasure-as-experience, percentile strength, coup-de-grace, sweeping hits, and resting to memorize spells. The clock and accompanying day/night cycle are also here.

    - The "Area" feature from later games has been backported to this one for the NES release.

    - There is no icon creator, nor ability to select portraits. Each combination of gender, race and class uses a specific portrait and icon. Not much of a loss IMO.

    - You don't have the paper journal. It's more convenient to play this way, but the text of the game is less verbose and descriptive. You also lose any images and maps that were in the journal.

    - All encounters from the early game are present and fully functional, even if the text is abbreviated. You can parley with gnolls to avoid combat, give Ohlo the potion or attack him, have your fortune read by a gypsy, and get in a bar fight with a dozen or more guards. They even kept the trolls throwing a sack of flour in the Rope Guild, although it's been reworded slightly.

    - I haven't thoroughly checked but I think all spells are intact from the PC version, although "Bless" has been renamed "Empower" in keeping with NoA's policy on religious imagery.

    - Everything is slower and less responsive. It's harder, but not impossible to input diagonals on the D-pad.

    - The area of effect for each spell is clearly shown as you aim it, making it a lot less likely to hit your own party with Fireball.

    - In general, the graphics are smaller and less detailed. Portraits for major characters are alright, but goblins and orcs look like children wearing costumes. In the battle screens, everything is extremely small.

    - Speaking of battles, the battle map still corresponds to the actual dungeon map, including the old oversight of leaving a blank spot where there are secret walls.

    - While each party member has a separate inventory, gold now exists in hammerspace and doesn't cause encumbrance issues. In addition, the various coins have been condensed to just gold. The long list of polearms has been pared down to a single trident available in the shop.

    - In my opinion, the music is bopping.

    1. -Very interesting. Sounds in some ways like a more faithful conversion than a lot of NES ports.
      -You could have 6+2 in the original
      -This is my first exposure to the term "hammerspace." At first, I though it must have something to do with "hammertime."

    2. alex: Thanks this is part of making this blog special and great.

  63. El Conde de MontecristoNovember 30, 2021 at 6:56 PM

    The savage frontier isnt placed in the map?

    1. The setting of the Savage Frontier games largely overlaps with the Neverwinter Nights area and the south of the Icewind Dale area.

  64. For me personally, one of those games that you'd like to erase from memory so you can play it again virginally. I played the C64 version back then, which was spread over 8 (!) floppy disk sides (the 1541 couldn't read disks double-sided).

  65. At this point in my life I'd pretty much lost interest in ever trying to play a tabletop RPG, but the comments on this post are really making me re-think that!
    On top of the time commitment I've always felt a little intimidated by how open ended they seem compared to a video game, but I'm sure it would be fun with a good DM. I have to imagine games done over zoom etc are more common now, maybe I'll try to find one of those.

  66. Re: the gameplay description of 06/01/2011

    It’s funny, because it’s true. That sounds kind of like 1e AD&D, but it might be a non-TSR system.

    A group calling themselves “3d6 Down the Line” has several podcasts of them playing with an updated version of the “Moldvay Basic” rules. The setting is The Dolmenwood, which is very evocative of British fairy tales. The podcast isn’t as boring a some I’ve listened to, even though they roll for what the weather is like, and the DM ensures they keep track of torches and food and such.


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