Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pool of Radiance: The Great Outdoors

Tip: Your Level 6 party will not slay a silver dragon.

The game world in Pool of Radiance is much larger than I remembered. I had forgotten about the outdoor area entirely until I took a boat from Phlan to the north part of the city to deal with the graveyard and Temple of Bane. Apparently, I could have left the city at any point after clearing Sokol Keep.

Moving around the outdoor map is done from an isometric viewpoint--the only time in the game, other than combat, that you see your party top-down. They somehow acquire horses the moment you step outside. The boundaries are somewhat arbitrary, but the coordinates go from 2,2 in the northwest to 41,29 in the southeast, suggesting a total map area of 1,053 squares (although some of these are blocked by water).

And I was determined to explore every one.

When I left town, I knew of three things I needed to find and do in the outdoor map: stop the kobolds from joining the enemy, find the source of the river's pollution, and stop the nomads from joining the enemy. But I wasn't sure where to find any of these things except a vague idea that I should probably investigate the large pyramid upriver. Still, paranoid that I'd miss some vital encounter on the north side of the Moonsea, I went as far east as the map would allow me, and started methodically traveling north and south, looking for anything interesting.

What I found were random encounters. Lots of them. And with enemies that I haven't encountered anywhere in the game so far: driders, wyverns, phase spiders, stirges, tigers, centaurs, nomads, displacer beasts, thri-keens. Many of them poison, which absolutely sucks in this game, because you have to hustle back to town and neutralize the party member to revive him. I generally find that the same strategies that work in town (e.g., being abusive to kobolds) just instigate fights here. Of course, you can't parlay with non-sentient creatures. I find that "flee" hardly ever works.

Fighting wyverns around stumps and logs.

Outdoor combat differs a little from indoor combat. First, you tend to start far away from your enemy. This is great if your enemies are melee fighters and need to come to you, but bad if they're spellcasters and missile fighters, and you need to trek to them. It can take two rounds just to get next to your foe. Second, there are a lot more terrain features in the outdoor map--logs, stumps, felled trees, shrubs, rivers--and you can use these to your advantage to protect certain party members or funnel your enemy to a particular position.

Fireball comes in handy outdoors as well as indoors.

In the exploration pattern I followed, the first fixed encounter that I came across was a ruined castle surrounded by a drawbridge. Immediately upon entering, I was greeted with an "anti-magic shell," and I was grateful I had multi-classed my spellcasters as fighters. Inside, I found a host of lizardmen and giant lizards, and something tickled my memory saying that I wanted to do something else before I explored here, so I kept going.

High in the mountains, I entered the cave of a silver dragon, and I chose the option to "challenge the evil leader of Old Phlan." The dragon responded with the screen at the top of this posting, at which point I apologized. The dragon accepted my apology and gave me this:

Bollocks. I knew I did the cemetery out of order. Continuing on, I came to a "small, dark cave" that turned out to be occupied by two wyverns and a little bit of treasure. Near that was a camp of nomads.

They turned out to be friendly chaps who threw me a party before asking my help defeating marauding bands of kobolds. The three battles that followed were embarrassingly easy, and at the end, the nomads promised not to join Tyranthraxus.

I agreed, and he said he was leading me to the treasure chamber, but he actually led me to the location of a wyvern, which he expected to kill me. Unfortunately for him, I had already dispatched the wyvern. He lasted only moments longer.

I tracked down the kobolds themselves to a cave to the southeast. There, I fought a series of epic battles that left the kobold king and two of Tyranthraxus's envoys dead. I videoed all 25 minutes of it, but I'm going to make you wait for that until tomorrow, when I post again about turn-based tactical combat.

It's worth noting that by this point, I've stopped bothering to pick up coins. I only take jewels and gems, and even those I'll probably never cash in. I'm far too overloaded with wealth.

I could have returned to Phlan at this point and gotten a nice reward, but I figured I'd clear up the third of my outstanding quests, and I headed upriver from Phlan to the location of an odd pyramid--the likely source of the Barren River's pollution. The nomad king had referred to it as a "Pyramid of Evil."

The pyramid was one of the most difficult levels so far in the game, partly because of the tough encounters with high-level fighters, lizard men, driders, displacer beasts, and other creatures, and partly because it was composed of a series of teleporters that made mapping difficult (there were also no coordinates and no area maps). This message was frequent:

The secret was that each teleporter had two potential destinations, and I just had to map everything methodically.

Destroying the river's pollution.

I had to translate some dwarven runes (this game really gets a lot of mileage out of the codewheel) to get the password to the inner keep: NOKNOK. There, I found the mad sorcerer Yarash, who has apparently been experimenting on lizardmen in an attempt to create a sahuagin.

He wasn't hard to kill, and a search of his papers afterwards showed that Tyranthraxus had tried to force Yarash to join his forces, but Yarash refused and swore to "send an army of unstoppable aquatic creations down the Barren River and sink your precious castle" if Tyrantraxus bothered him again. Other notes indicated Yarash was aware of the silver dragon to the northwest and the kobolds to the east.

In another room, I freed some lizardmen who, in gratitude, gave me a password should I encounter other lizardmen. It translated as SAVIOR. I'll head back to their castle later and try it out.

As I left the pyramid, the effects of my environmental crusade were immediate:

What was kind of neat, too, was that back in Phlan, a message on a square next to the river which had previously said, "You walk near the polluted Barren River" now says, "You walk near the beautiful Stojanow River." I guess fixing the pollution problem not only cleaned up the river, but changed its name!

I got my three rewards from the clerk and was, of course, given three new quests:

  • Lizardmen are preparing to join the enemy. I need to stop this. That one should be easy.
  • The "heir to the house of Bivant" needs to be rescued. She doesn't say from whom. I'm not really sure where to find him.
  • The third quest came from my old friend Lord Cadorna, who wants me to deliver a message to a Zhentil Keep outpost to the west.

Lord Cadorna assumes I've never read Hamlet.

As I close up for the day, Octavianus is a Level 7 fighter--he only gets one more. Karnov is Level 6 in both fighter and thief, so he has a little ways to go in both (thieves max at 9). Zink has hit his level cap as a cleric (5) and is a Level 6 fighter. Lame Brain and Duskfire are both Level 6 fighters and Level 5 mages--they get one more mage level. Koren, as I said last time, is maxed as a Level 6 cleric. My best weapon is a bastard sword +3, and my best armor is leather +4. I've got quite a large selection of wands and scrolls.

Again, big kobold battle coming tomorrow. I think I'm getting fairly close to the end.


  1. With all that wealth, I would guess PoL will score pretty low for economics in the GIMLET.

    Reading the postings has me itching to play PoL again, but I've already got a huge backlog of games.

  2. Yeah, that's one aspect of the game I don't love. Nothing to buy. You need money for training and healing, but you have more than enough after your first reward from the clerk.

  3. The outdoors combat in the Gold Box games can be a bit of a chore due to large distances and lots of stuff that block your line of sight, which makes targeting harder. And Fireball has a smaller AOE outdoors. :-(
    I explored the wilderness methodically first time I played, but now I role play it more. My party figures that the nomads will most likely be found in grassland or steppe area, so we explore that quite methodically, avoiding forests, hills and mountains, and find the Nomad Camp relatively soon, and sight the Pyramid as we explore along the river. Once we find the Nomad Camp we get directions to the Kobold Caves, and from then on locations you need to visit are not a problem to find.
    I find that if I explore everything the party will max out their levels too soon and the last few places you need to vist on the overland map becomes too easy.

    Yes, money becomes ridiculosuly abundant, so as long as my party is not out in the wilderness I prefer to do as much healing as possible in the temples, again for role playing reasons, as I assume an adventurer party will want to finish their quests as soon as possible, and not risk another adventurer party stealing their thunder while they spend months sleeping and healing.

  4. you did quite a few things our of order but the game is not so linear that it forces that option on you which is fantastic.

  5. Stu is right. The game is so non-linear that you could essentially head straight for the end-game at this point if you wanted to and skip everything else and still win (I had a few things undone when I won it last time).

    Knowing how much you like to explore everything, though, I doubt that will happen. Lucky for us, then, eh?

  6. Stu and ProphetSword are correct. The game is progressively non-linear. When you start, the slums is the only place you can go, but by the time the party moves to overland, you can go anyplace. I usually do the Pyramid first as it is easy to find and gives you the clue to finish the Lizardmen quest.

    PetrusOctavianus is right. Fireball has a smaller AOE outdoors which is a pain when fighting a horde and all cannot fit into said AOE.

    CRPG Addict - yes Cadorna is a jerk who has not read Hamlet himself, nor has he read the histories of such men as Vikdun Quisling, Pierre Laval or Alcidiabes and others.

    The Economy does get more unbalanced as the game goes on. I do not know how many times I have dropped loads of coins in the streets of Phlan just to recover speed. I know it sounds like a drug deal, but the characters are bulging with cash.

  7. The main problem with the economy is twofold:
    1. XP is tied to treasure, instead of quest experience. The IE games did this right, and it is also faithful the the pen and paper rules
    2. The monetary gains form killing creatures, especialy giants, follow the pen and paper rules, but since it is a computer game which at heart is a combat simulator you end up killing much larger numbers of giants than you would in a pen and paper module.

  8. Yes, I got used to the RCMR (rest, cast, memorize, rest) but the economy is really bad.

    - "Thanks for saving our village, o heroes. We've painfully collected all the little wealth we have : take these 9000 gold pieces as a reward for your courage."
    - "Oh, yeah, thanks. You can dump it in that sewer, over there..."

    Also, in my game the code word for the lizardmen was "Savior", not "Friend"... (I'm playing dosbox, as you?)

  9. Perhaps it's randomized with each new game, thus making sure you don't simply skip the part of the game where you're given the password? That would be a neat feature at the time.

  10. That's what I was wondering...

  11. Georges, it was SAVIOR for me, too. Duly corrected above. I had FRIEND on my mind because it had been the most recent copy protect answer.

  12. It is vaguely fun to imagine my party members walking down the street, dropping loads of platinum pieces from their pockets.

  13. The bit about dropping coins everywhere is my single biggest gripe about this game. I like that it lets me reminisce about playing a tabletop game and also that you play random adventurer nobodies instead of small gods... but it's harder to justify (from an RP standpoint) why they're littering the plains with mounds of coins. Maybe they're like Scrooge McDuck and want to swim through pools of coins...

  14. That reminds me of a good old staple of this genre: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MoneySpider

    How does PoR fare in this regard? Do the item and monetary rewards from random monsters match up nicely to the creatures that drop them, or do you remember any ridiculous examples to mention?

  15. It's funny -- I never played the Goldbox games, but I did play (and build modules with) Unlimited Adventures. There, the outdoors exploration was handled by a single, non-scrolling, quite small map. It always struck me as incredibly lame. Now I'm stunned to discover the Goldbox games, which predated and provided the core engine for FRUA, had large, scrolling maps. What the hell? Is there an explanation here?

  16. Macnol, the game does a good job with that, at least. Creatures that would not be expected to have gold or items do not have them.

  17. Wait, Zhentil Keep? As I recall those are some of the big evil guys in the FR. I think I found your bad guy! Hint: Lawful Good characters don't normally invite the evil wizards over for tea & crumpets.

  18. Could it be that the Nomad camp does not work anymore if one has done the Kobold cave before? I found the Kobold cave first, freed the Princess and cleared the Kobold mission. Now while I am greeted and given a party by the Nomads, no Kobold attack is triggered.

    1. Apparently, if one does the Kobold caves before meeting the Nomads there is not attack in the Nomad camp. Neither a reward from the Nomad chieftain. But I received the reward from the Phlan council for keeping the Nomads on our side.

      It's really amazing (and somewhat depressing when considering the sequels) that PoR is among the best of all the Gold Box games in such "conditional" encounters.

    2. See, this is what I'm talking about. No Gold Box game since POR even comes close to this level of encounter and role-playing depth, let alone conditional encounters. Why was the first one so special in this regard? Just because they had more time to develop it?

    3. I guess it was due to PoR being designed by TSR's designers, while subsequent games were developed in-house.
      But still, you'd think that once they had the engine up and running, they would have had more time to polish the design of the post PoR games.

    4. Nah. It's not about polish but more about experience. Those guys in TSR were experts in what they were doing, what with dealing with players who were way too creative in tournaments. For them, writing up alternative scenarios and branching out plots in a way more contained environment than table-top RPGs would be mere child's play.

      Now, comparing professional Dungeon Masters who had years of experience in not being blindsided, developers from SSI were like enthusiastic teens writing up their first few modules for their junior high school friends; always having to think of something on the fly or coming up with deus-ex-machina to restrict their players.

      So, it's not that they don't have the time, they just never thought of it and... well, there ain't no DLCs back in the early 90s.

    5. Indeed, in the kobold cave you can find a map leading to the nomad camp, and indicating they're planning to attack there imminently.

    6. Just to note here, the NES version doesn't care if the kobold caves are cleared first, the nomad encounter occurs just the same with three waves of kobolds (pitifully easy at this level).

    7. Pool was definitely so far above all the following Goldbox games, and I think that having TSR designers on the team definitely helped. Weirdly, those same designers worked on Ruins of Adventure, the tie-in module, and to be honest it's absolute garbage. It's vaguely useful if you've played and remember the game, but you'll be doing the majority of the work yourself.

    8. Hey, better not to remind Chet there still is his unfinished journey through the module ... ;-).

    9. You'll be happy to know that it wasn't the same authors who worked on Ruins of Adventure, as I covered in the first of those entries. I agree with you that it's not a good module, though.

  19. More differences and musing of the NES version:

    1) The more random locations were removed (no small wooded grove for me).
    2) No dwarven runes to translate, just find the correct teleporter to Yarash
    3) I freed the lizardmen, but did not get their password. Possibly due to already clearing out the lizardmen keep. More likely it's just not in this version.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.