Monday, June 6, 2011

Pool of Radiance: Holy and Unholy

And a very stereotypical cape.

The first time I played Dungeons & Dragons as a pen-and-paper game, I remember spending a long time rolling dice, naming, and coming up with a background for a thief character. I seem to recall he was a halfling, although I can't think for the life of me what made me want to play a halfling. Probably my companions told me they made better thieves. I had a handful of starting gold, and I equipped the character. I remember being confused about why he'd want a 10-foot pole (especially when he was only about three feet high), but my companions assured me I needed one.

After maybe an hour of character creation, we began exploring the dungeon. While my memory is probably off that I died in the first room--it may have been the second or third--I do remember what killed me: a ghoul. I was exploring a cabinet and a ghoul came out, paralyzed me, and ate me while my comrades were searching another corner or something (I remember the DM whispering to me that they didn't know what was happening just yet). That added insult to injury: I got eaten by a ghoul, and no one noticed.

I don't think I had even heard the word "ghoul" up to that point, and I certainly didn't know they could paralyze on touch, which seemed horribly unfair to me. Even now, when I encounter a ghoul in a CRPG, I have this ingrained sense of dread and I concentrate all my attacks on it until it's dead. Nothing worse than getting paralyzed and eaten.

Valhingen Graveyard featured eight types of undead: skeletons (including a giant one), zombies (including a "juju" variety), ghouls, wights, spectres, wraiths, mummies, and a vampire. Probably no list better exemplifies the amalgamation of mythology in modern high fantasy. Skeletons are pan-cultural, but zombies (as we think of them) are west African in origin, as is the term "juju." (The Forgotten Realms wiki says that a juju zombie retains its consciousness and knows that it's dead and is thus "horribly vicious and cruel.") Ghouls are Arabian. The term "wight" was used in Middle English synonymously with "man" and only became attached to the undead, I think, in Lord of the Rings. "Spectre" has long been used as a synonym for "ghost"; the word itself is French in origin. Wraiths come from Scotland, mummies from Egypt, and vampires from eastern Europe.

In the game, all but skeletons and zombies are hateful, hateful things. I don't know how much the creators of D&D relied on folklore in crafting the effects of the undead, but that list of eight creatures can inflict your characters with just about every harmful effect except poison, including paralysis (ghouls), disease (mummies), fear (mummies), level drain (wights, wraiths, spectres, vampires), and charm (vampires). I suffered all of them in my quest to clear out Valhingen Graveyard.

The cemetery was appropriately gothic.

Valhingen Graveyard took me several hours and featured some jaw-dropping experience point rewards. My first major battle, with a spectre (fortunately, I killed him before he could drain anyone) was enough to get 1,900 experience points. (Part of it must have had to do with the large amount of treasure I found on him.) I think my top XP reward up to this point was around 400. Just as I was basking in that, I defeated a giant skeleton nearby (38 XP) and opened a marble chest he was guarding, receiving 4,367 XP!

This was enough to send Koren, my pure cleric, to Level 6--the top level she can achieve. Think about that for a minute. I haven't even begun to explore the outdoor areas yet. I can't be even halfway through the game. Yet one of my characters is already maxed out. If I had any pure mages, they'd be in the same boat.

There were some nice illustrations in the graveyard. This one was animated with flashes of lightning in the background.

I thus decided to use Koren to help with the graveyard and then dual her to a fighter. Dual-classes, for those uninitiated, are available only to humans in the first and second edition of D&D rules. Once they switch, they lose the abilities of their first classes until they achieve one higher level in their second classes. I'd dual her to a mage except mages also max at Level 6, so I can't get her to Level 7 in this game. Fighters can go up to Level 8. With luck, I thought, by the end of the game and the big battle with Tyranthraxus, she'll receive her cleric abilities back again. If not, I always have Zink, and I can get a cleric NPC. More on this at the end.

The good news was that at Level 6, Koren has the ability not only to just turn, but also to destroy skeletons and zombies.

Very satisfying.

The turn didn't work so consistently on wights and spectres, who swiftly became my most hated nemeses because of their level drain abilities. The infuriating thing about level drain is that although it can be undone with a "Restore" spell, the spell only restores as many experience points are necessary to achieve the minimum of the level. If your Level 6 fighter has 58,000 XP, about halfway to Level 7, and he gets level drained and restored, he'll have 35,001 XP. This means that a good time to fight level-draining undead is immediately after you've gained a level, or if you've already maxed your levels. Thus, Koren made an ideal melee fighter against wights here. I orchestrated it so that she and the NPC swordsman took most of the damage. Unfortunately, they didn't take all the damage. Lame Brain got knocked down to the bottom of Level 4 magery when he was on the cusp of obtaining Level 5, and Octavius lost about 3000 XP (he had recently achieved Level 6 as a fighter). The one saving grace is that the game equips you with a metric ton of scrolls of restoration.

Evil, evil bastards.

Unfortunately, wights appear as random encounters in the graveyard, so I had to flee a lot. Fleeing generally takes you back to the entrance. From there, I'd retrace my steps only to encounter wights again and have to flee. It was slow mapping.

The graveyard had a lot of fixed encounters with spectres creating skeletons, zombies, and wights. Killing them knocked down the number of random undead and was key to clearing the entire area. I faced three mummies in a stand-alone crypt with no treasure. Oddly, I finally got Karnov's backstabbing skill to work, although it shouldn't have worked on undead.

Not that it worked all that well.

There were a couple of caches of arms and armor that had once belonged to paladins, one guarded by a wraith, but the other simply handed to me by a kindly spirit. In one or the other, I found a sword +2 that, although not explicitly cursed, severely wounded any character I tried to have equip it. Finally, I figured out it could only be carried by someone who was lawful good. Fortunately, I had one lawful good fighter/mage, Duskfire, and she's got it.

I think it would have been funnier if the choices at the bottom had been "leave" and "suffer."

The big bad in the cemetery was a vampire. I found his coffin before I found him, and in it was an account of previous adventurers who had slain a vampire. It noted that the first time, he didn't "die" but rather retreated to his coffin, where they had to kill him again. This clued me in that I needed to do the same. Octavianus lost levels again fighting the creature, but none of his "charm" spells worked and neither battle with him was overly hard. I'd rather face him eight times than any more wights.

So I got back to Phlan and decided I'd better dual class Koren before I get all my experience rewards from the Clerk. I went to the training facility and...ha ha, joke's on me. Pool of Radiance didn't implement dual classes. I don't know what gave me the idea that it did. I guess Koren will just have to go through the rest of the game having already reached her potential.

The experience rewards were considerable, and they enabled both Lame Brain and Duskfire to get Level 3 spells. You know what that means: fireball!

Mage spells tomorrow, though. Now that both of my clerics have Level 3 spells, let's take a look at them. The creators carefully imported all the pen-and-paper spells for each level whether they made sense or not. The first issue is that the game has no source of healing that doesn't involve paying absurd amounts to the temples. Resting only heals one hit point per 24 hours--a very literal adaptation of the D&D rules. The only healing spell in the game is "Cure Light Wounds," which means that you have to assign this spell to almost all your clerics' Level 1 slots. Healing after a tough battle, or tough series of battles, is a long process of memorizing the spells, resting, casting, and memorizing again.

With most of the Level 1 slots needed for healing, it's tough to imagine ever using some of the other spells. "Curse" lowers the THACO and morale of enemies by 1, but it only lasts six rounds and is hardly noticeable. "Detect Magic" puts a little * next to magic items in your inventory, but usually you know when something is magic; you just don't know what it does (for which you need to have it identified at a shop). "Protection from Evil" only affects the caster, which doesn't make it worth the slot. "Protection from Good"...does anyone deliberately fight good characters in this game? "Resist Cold" would be helpful if I ever met a monster that did cold damage.

There are some other mysterious ones in Level 2 and 3. I've never gotten "Find Traps" to work, and I haven't found any snakes on who to cast "Snake Charm." "Animate Dead" turns one of your dead PCs into a zombie NPC--wouldn't it be better to raise him? I haven't needed "Cure Blindness," and the effects of "Cause Blindness" don't seem to be enough to waste a Level 3 slot. "Cure Disease" is helpful when you have it, but "Cause Disease" takes more time to do any damage than you'll ever spend in combat. "Bestow Curse" has "variable effects determined by the computer." Uh-huh. Finally, anyone who goes around equipping items without identifying them first deserves what he gets, but otherwise "Remove Curse" works here.

Essentially, I go through the game using five cleric spells out of 24: "Cure Light Wounds," "Bless," "Hold Person," "Prayer," and "Dispel Magic." If anyone has honestly found the other spells valuable in Pool, please tell me how.

The Graveyard was my last city area, aside from the castle itself, to take care of. Tomorrow, I head into the wide open wilderness to solve the quests involving kobolds, nomads, and the source of the river's pollution.


  1. Wow, cleaning out the graveyard this early in the game is quite hard-core. I usually do it after all the wilderness areas. The last (I think) quest in the wilderness also nets you a second 2H Sword +3 vs Undead + another batch of Restoration scrolls. At least it did when I last played.

    How did you survive the room with wall to wall ghouls? I still remember one battle in which my mage cast a Fireball in that room and did 14 HP of damages on the ghouls, leaving them all with 1 HP. :-(

    Glad you finally got -backstab- to work. The reason you only did 6 damage is that Mummies only take half damages from edged weapons. And your backstab modifier is probably only 2, or possibly 3. Also, in PoR backstabbing works on any creature.
    And no dual-classing is another way that PoR differs from the rest of the Gold Box games. But your pure Cleric will have a head start in CoA which can be very helpful, if you transfer him.

    Looking forward to seeing you tackle the Kobold caves. Please make a video of the great battle there!

  2. Gaming has taught me that if you cannot kill something with fire, you should use more fire. And then maybe try ice or lightning.

    Either way, fireball is a fantastic spell and it's just so FUN to use. Just keep it away from tight spaces with narrow hallway outlets. I don't know if PoR incorporates that bit of nastiness, but that's another popular way for real GMs to murder a party.

    Do keep saves of your character data for importing, I recall that later Gold Boxes do indeed have dual-classing.

  3. Hmmm...I didn't have a battle with wall-to-wall ghouls. The largest one I had was outside a tower with four wights and a load of zombies. Platform differences?

    A couple of people have mentioned the kobold caves, which I don't remember at all from my previous plays. I can't wait to see what's so epic about that battle.

    1. Not to necro but I think I know why Petrus remembers that.

      In the AD&D module this was based on, there was a defined mechanic for the number of undead at the Graveyard. Most of the fixed encounters there, both in the module and video game, involve undead creating more undead.

      In the OG module, the number of undead weaker undead, of each type, Zombie, Ghoul and Skeleton, doubled every week of game time that passed. Can't remember if the initial trigger was the start of the module, or if it was when the council gave the PC's the quest.

      Regardless, I know that when I've played through PoR, and have tackled the graveyard early, the number of undead in the fixed encounters has been small. If I tackle it late, the fixed encounters with Skeletons, Zombies and Ghouls include a large number of enemies.

      There's a similar scaling mechanic in place in the slums, based on level. All encounters there are sized based on average party level. This isn't problematic if you clear them first, but funny things happen when you wander in there with an average party level of 4+.....fights with 30+ orcs for exaple.

  4. Fireball is pretty much the most useful spell of any game. I'm going to do a special posting on it--talking about the variances across different platforms--one of these days. In the Gold Box games, it's pretty easy to figure out the blast radius and limit damage, but in more "real-time" CRPGs, like "Baldur's Gate," it's harder.

  5. "Hmmm...I didn't have a battle with wall-to-wall ghouls. The largest one I had was outside a tower with four wights and a load of zombies. Platform differences?" maps mention a room full of gould and according to the Wiki the game scenario and engine of the PC and Amiga versions are identical. Come to think of it, I didn't encounter the ghouls last time I played (I thought it was due to doing things out of order), so I think I must have confused the area I thought was full of ghouls in PoR with a similar area in Death Knights of Krynn.

    Regarding Fireball, one of the things I hated about Baldur's Gate first time I played it was that there was no grid or other visual aid to tell you the excact AoE of the fireball. So I produced my little ruler and after some testing managed to measure the excact radius of the fireball.

  6. Ahh undead in D&D games. Always terrifying. It'll be even worse when you reach Ravenloft in a couple years of blog posts. Real time hordes of level draining monsters.

    Course I am playing the forgotten Gold Box game SSI and Westwood made for the Turbografx right now and blogging it. And it too has those nasty undead in it. I will be joining you in the OH NO DON'T LEVEL DRAIN ME turn based nightmare shortly.

    1. “Always terrifying. It'll be even worse when you reach Ravenloft in a couple years of blog posts.”

      Reading this 12 years later is quite amusing…

  7. I have been thinking of doing something dumb... I got the idea and now I can't shake it out of my head. I'm thinking of playing (through emulation) PoR for the Nintendo... just to see how different it is. It's super bad in that I will never be able to import my characters into the game after that but it might still be fun. If anyone out there reads comments as well as reading our fearless Addict ( :) ), what would you all suggest? Bearing in mind that I am leaning toward doing it.

    1. I will be doing this in the future, once I get my hands on the game, along with Bard's Tale and Might & Magic. Good times to ensue.

  8. Years ago, I had an elven fighter who died in one of the numerous battles inside Phlan. Since elves couldn't be resurrected in PoR, I used Raise Dead and kept playing. Unfortunately, he no longer gained experience, but it was the first and only time I've had an undead companion.

  9. valhingen graveyard is imo the blight on PoR, its so unbalanced and difficult, even with the efreet bottle you get from the kobolds..

    por and the sorcerers pyramid (which you can get lost in and unable to get out, some places are ONE WAY aaargh)..

  10. oh I see you got here way early in the game, you should have done the kobold camp/wyvern caves first...

  11. No adventuring party is complete without a ten foot pole.

  12. By all means, William--it's not dumb. Give it a try and let us know how it goes. I really would be curious about the differences.

    smileyninja, good point. I suppose if my elf dies, that's the only option other than rolling another character or taking a hireling. I remember that "Animate Dead" in later D&D games (e.g., Baldur's Gate) SUMMONS undead. Is this just the way they adapted the rules, or did something change between the first and second editions?

    Jason, but WHY? In God's name, WHAT IS IT FOR?!

    1. Others have responded to your question about the 10' pole, but I thought I could expand a bit. First off, I recall one DM indicating the pole was collapsible in half or quarters (nevermind the inherent problem of the technology existing, maybe it was just hinged or something)... But honestly there were all kinds of items that you could have and use in encounters that made for way more fun than solving everything with combat. I haven't played P&P in over 20 years so memory is a bit fuzzy, but I remember a buddy of mine spitting on a bar of soap and throwing it at a fleeing bad guy, rolling a 20 (critical success!) and causing the baddy to slip slide in to a wall, allowing for his capture. Just one example of an oddball inventory item that had a use... There were also polished steel squares that could be used as portable mirrors to peak around corners, chalk for marking dungeon walls and all kinds of other adventuring gear, some more obviously useful than others... It was just always really neat to me when I or someone else found an RP way to use some mundane item to impact the story/solve a problem. :)

    2. I can see where that would be fun, but I think that somewhere else on my blog, someone commented how frustrating it was from a DM perspective when characters spent 45 minutes exhaustively peeking around corridors, spiking doors, marking walls, searching for every kind of trap, etc., instead of just exploring the damned dungeon.

    3. It greatly depends on your playstyle and what you enjoy. You try and match your players to your playstyle. Some DMs, like Gary Gygax, considered that sort of thing to be the very heart of the game, while most modern DM's focus on the story. I'm somewhere in the middle.

  13. All the AD&D spells aren't present in the game, just to be clear. There are far more spells available in the actual game, but most of them wouldn't have translated well into a computer game (though "Web" probably would have).

    As for the spells: I have already mentioned the "Silence, 15' Radius" is awesome against enemy spell casters. Sometimes you can shut down multiple casters at once.

    Additionally, "Snake Charm" may not find much use in "Pool of Radiance," but believe me, it's important in the other Gold-Box games, and my Cleric never travels without at least one in memory. It can be the difference between a tough fight with poisonous snakes who can kill you easily and a cake-walk of easy experience because the snakes are helpless after you cast it.

    "Curse" can be useful, especially if you cast "Bless" on yourself. If you're going to take the time to improve yourself, why not lower your enemies ability to hit you as well?

    "Detect Magic" is good for finding out which items are magical in a stack of items dropped by monsters (sometimes the leaders will have magical items, and if they are identical items that their minions carry, it's helpful to know, for example, which 'Long Sword' was the magical one). For that reason, I always have at least one of these handy as well.

  14. (Argh, again your comment box ate my comment!)
    In table-top RPG terms:

    A 10 foot pole is a way of manipulating items at a distance. Given that many things in a dungeon can be trapped, having 10' between you and the trap is a good first step. Also very handy for bothering party members.

    Other dungeon-essential items are: red rubber balls, chickens, and slinkies.

    I'll probably turn this into a question over at because it really is one of the tropes of the hobby.

  15. @CRPGAddict: This will probably get eaten by your spam-filter, but is the link to the 10-foot pole question. It may be interesting to watch the responses just to see how they map to CRPGs

  16. One thing Addict: Over time wizards move from atillary to support casters, so you might want to look more at buff and disabling spells.

    As you've done one of the higher level areas first, why don't you try benching your maxed out character and taking along a first level of a class/race combo you don't have? If you pure-class them and pick a support role you might be able to develop a useful backup character.

    One of the reasons I don't like 4e is the lack of cool non-damage spells to think up creative solutions with. I loved thinking up creative solutions to problems with my clerics spells, but 4e took that away mostly.

  17. One thing about the monster graphics, they're nearly all from the 1st Edition AD&D Monster Manual. Nicely done, though.

    It does raise an interesting point: I wonder if SSI asked permission to use the artwork, or if TSR offered it, or if someone just got the great idea to scan them in and use them?

  18. Once nefarious use of animate dead is to use it on dead NPCs. No more experience for them, but no paying to have them raised, either.

    The "cure spell gap" in AD&D 1st and 2nd editions annoyed me as well. Exactly one cure spell until hitting the 4th spell level and obtaining cure serious wounds, and while mages are getting fireballs and lightning bolts, the cleric is hoping for a chance to heal an injury of greater severity than the average papercut.

    Thank goodness Curse of the Azure Bonds implemented the "fix" command.

  19. Well then. Funny how things go. I have started my OWN blog, to document what it's like to play Pool of Radiance on the Nintendo 8 bit platform :) I'll letyou know how it works out. But everyone should read it as well :)

  20. Dear CRPG Addict:

    You and your party should be commended on so brave an action. The graveyard is the toughest challenge in the game, after the trolls of course. The Big T wisely chooses not to go there himself.

    You do get an extra two handed sword versus undead from an overland quest.

    The monster artwork is from the monster manual, but as the game box says POR is an official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons product, I see how they got it.

    I agree about the cleric spells, which is why I usually create a half-elf cleric fighter, but that creates the problem of slow level advancement.

    Fireball is a very useful spell. Along with magic missle it forms the main artillery component of your party. Lightning bolt can be fun if you can flank a line of enemies but its application is more limited.

  21. SIN SAID: "Once nefarious use of animate dead is to use it on dead NPCs. No more experience for them, but no paying to have them raised, either."

    If you animate a dead NPC, do they still take a share of treasure? Also, you can attack friendly units in combat right?

    one final note: FIREBALL!!!! YESSSSSS!

  22. As far as the NES port of POR goes, I think it does a really good job of translating. The worst part about the game is the color schemes they used. Its very "monochrome" and brown driven. Its a shame they never put out Curse of the Azure Bonds as they had planned for NES.

    I was playing ORDER OF THE GRIFFON for the TG-16 a few months back. It's a "lost" SSI Gold Box game that was specifically made for the TG. They just did a HORRIBLE job on it. I think the POR port for NES is 10 times better, although what I hate the most is the time it takes to memorize spells and rest after each battle. This was fixed in the next few Gold Box games thankfully.

    NES got some pretty faithful ports: Bards Tale 1, Wizardry I and II, Ultima 3 and 4, and Might and Magic 1 to name a few. I was always envious of the Japanese because they put out A LOT more old school CRPG's for their consoles. I'm assuming RPG's are much bigger there.

    Either way, thanks for everything CRPG addict. Your blog keeps me from putting my head in my hands and gently sobbing all day at work.

    Long live the Gold Box Engine!

    1. I read a document explaining the differences between the A2 and the NES Might and Magic I's and also watched RPGenie's youtube collection on it (if you folks know that). The differences are small in number, but substantial, apparently - changes in spell points for starting characters (in their favour), additional puzzle in the Inner Sanctum, etc.

    2. The latter would have been welcome. I enjoyed the puzzle at the end of MMII. I felt that MMI ended a bit abruptly, and without much of a challenge.

  23. Yeah, Delmoko, the Fix command really helped make the Gold Box games a better experience. Western style RPGs, almost exclusively dungeon crawlers, are popular, albeit still a niche in Japan.

    CRPGAddict: I was looking at the comments for your first Demon's Winter post, someone mentioned Lands of Lore, and you said it's "coming up in five years". Now my question is, LoL has an enhanced CD edition with speech. Are you going to play that or the original disk version? Same goes for any other enhanced game.

  24. The song Thiller might be a perfect soundtrack for this part of the adventure. And if that doesn't do it there is always the duet with Paul McCartney.

    At any rate, I understand your hatred of ghouls and other undead.I always thought the game would have been more fun if you could have made a deal with Mace and go with him and all his orcs into the graveyard. Given that he had instructions to do so, it would seem to be in order.

    All in all this is the scariest adventure in any of the gold box games.

  25. @ lamebrain: IIRC, the NPCs do not take a share of the treasure but retain their hit points. When I played this as a kid, I would hire two weak clerics, let them die, and then reanimate them over and over. Good thing the party alignment was evil!

  26. @Addict: I share your distaste for ghouls in particular. There's nothing like having a full health character go down due to a coup de grace after failing a save vs. paralyzation. And they're fast. Bah!

    Level draining sucks too because it always struck me as robbing you of character progress which is a big part of the point of the game (both for CRPGs and tabletop RPGs). I suppose it's a decent simulation of having your life force drained away by some dark force, though.

    Level drains, save or die mechanics and strange magic items (like the Deck of Many Things) are things that have all gone away in more recent iterations of (A)D&D and other current RPG systems that I know of (is Hackmaster still current?). These types of mechanics are a large source of player griping due to the randomness and possibility of player death but because of their randomness they also introduce a fun hint of danger that's been lost I think. I find current CRPGs and glancing at more current tabletop books that character survival and advancement seems to be almost a given while character death is something that rarely comes up. I imagine that a lot of this is because of trying to tell a narrative story as opposed to trying to simulate a dangerous world or have deadly tactical battles.

    I don't know that the randomness of things like save or die mechanics is needed to have a difficult/interesting game, but they strike me as adding fun due to the risk involved whereas if you know that you'll succeed and will likely come out the other side unscathed, the games get fairly boring and "thematically unheroic". I think it's a large part of why I still have a soft spot for many of these older RPGs and the gold box games in particular, despite tear your hair out moments like having your 4hp wizard getting pelted with arrows or your 50hp fighter failing a save vs. death.

  27. Bless/Curse come together, it's a very simple mechanic that says a lot about D&D's roots. A +1 to attack/saving throws is effectively an extra level as far as really low characters are concerned. Therefore it makes sense to follow it up with a minus one level for enemies spell, putting a gap between their THACO and yours. The difference is minimal, but for low level D&D fights in no-savescumming circumstances, it tends to be worth it. Likewise a +1 magical weapon at very low levels makes a noticeable difference.

  28. Prophet, I just haven't faced that many enemy spellcasters yet. I don't know if they become more plentiful late in the game or what, but so far I've just been able to engage them in melee combat and kill them in a round or two. I do appreciate the tips ont he other spells.

    Okay on 10-foot poles: I do get what they're ostensibly for. What I don't get is a) why they have to be 10 feet. Wouldn't that be awfully hard to carry? When I have to carry even 8-foot 2x4s through my house, I inevitably put holes in walls, hit the ceiling, knock over vases, etc. Are dungeons more spacious than my house? b) why you couldn't just use a sword or staff to accomplish the same things.

    Adamantyr, thanks for the info about the monster portraits. I just looked up a few online, and it adds a lot to my understanding of the development of the game. By the way, good to hear from you again. I don't think you've commented since January.

    Now I almost wish my swordsman would die so I can animate him.

    At this point, the lack of "fix" is my primary complaint with the game.

    William, I bookmarked your blog. I look forward to seeing your first play posting.

    JJ, when the enemies line up just right, lightning bolt is oh-so-satisfying, especially when you can bounce it off a wall and get them twice. But they rarely stay in such a perfect line. But see my video tomorrow for a good example.

    Delmoko: Good lord, man. What do you do for a living?

    Lugh: I don't have any idea. One thing at a time. I'll probably play the latest version unless the enhancement changes it so much that it's fundamentally a different game. Pirates! and Pirates!Gold=two separate games. Baldur's Gate + Tales of the Sword Coast = just one game. I'll probably be looking readers' advice when I get to games like that.

    Sean, that's a good analysis and I agree with your perspective.

    All right, I'll give curse a try. I just wish you could cast it before battle, like bless, instead of wasting a round during battle.

  29. Addict: The pole is 10' because dungeons were mapped out on grids in tabletop just as they are in old CRPGs. Each square is 10' - so the 10' pole lets you reach one full square ahead (or up/down) to tap floors, poke at stuff and so on.

  30. Not sure you'll see this after such a long time, but I believe the tradition to carry a 10' pole comes from the early pen and paper versions of either D&D or AD&D. I just now took a quick look in my 2nd Edition Players' Handbook, and don't see anything like this, but I'm sure I remember stern advice to new players that it was important to always have a 10' pole, a 50' rope, and some iron spikes. And I'm pretty sure I remember some kind of "early adventurer's kit" that you could buy for a lump sum that included all of those things.

    They never explained what the pole was for. The rope was obvious, and the iron spikes were meant to hold doors shut. What our group ended up doing was switching to wooden stops, triangular pieces of wood we could drop under a door and kick into place; these weren't as effective as iron spikes, but spikes took (IIRC) a couple of rounds to hammer into the dungeon stone, where we had a house rule that you could drop a stop under a door for half your movement in a round.

    The mystery can likely be solved if someone has access to an original set of D&D books, or possibly a First Edition Player's Handbook from AD&D. I'm almost certain that's where the tradition started, but I can't prove it myself.

  31. "Not sure you'll see this after such a long time, but I believe the tradition to carry a 10' pole comes from the early pen and paper versions of either D&D or AD&D."

    IIRC both the red-box D&D and AD&D had a 10' pole as one of the standard pieces of kit for dungeon exploration, right up there with a 50' coil of rope and a flask of oil.;

  32. 10 foot poles are for dealing with traps: You poke ahead of you as you walk down a hallway with it and find pit traps. You flip a strange lever with it and if it is electrified or a dart shoots out you are 10' back.
    I have heard of DMs responding by moving the traps back 10' however, so the first trap goes off at the lever, then a second goes off 10' back.

  33. It just seems like an awfully long pole. You'd think they'd get wedged in all kinds of places, or you'd always be hitting your fellow party members. Heck, I can't walk through the house with a mop and not knock over a lamp or two.

    Weren't "iron rations" also part of the standard adventuring gear? Was there a DM so anal that he tracked the nutritional content of his players' food and gave them anemia if they didn't eat enough iron?

  34. Yeah, it does seem too long. Seems like it would be smarter to put a little screw and socket setup on two five foot poles, and have two characters each use one as a staff. If you actually needed the full ten feet, you'd attach them, poke whatever needed poking, and then detach them again if you still had a pole.

    Iron rations were preserved, as opposed to standard rations, which would only last a few days. You'd try to only eat your iron rations when you were far from other food sources.

    Heh, in retrospect, our pen and paper characters must have looked like walking item shops. And in games like Fallout 3, with unlimited ammo-carrying capacity, it's often even worse. In my last playthrough, I would often have several each of pistols, assault rifles, and hunting rifles, and by endgame, I had enough ammunition to successfully prosecute a war.

    Most of the multiplayer RPGs aren't too bad in this regard, but the single player Bethesda offerings get pretty ludicrous.

  35. There has been much discussion on 10' poles in the RPG blogosphere. Early editions of D&D didn't describe items at all- It was assumed that if you wanted to know what a glaive was, you went to the library and looked it up.
    This has left much ambiguity on 10' poles, since there cost is often higher then that of a ladder, so it is usually assumed that they do collapse into segments of some kind. Fafard and the Grey Mouser used a similar device when mountain climbing once, and we know that the works of Fritz Liber are one of the sources of inspiration for D&D.

  36. >>It does raise an interesting point: I wonder if SSI asked permission to use the artwork, or if TSR offered it, or if someone just got the great idea to scan them in and use them?

    I remember reading somewhere that the scenarios to some of the Gold Box games were actually produced in-house at TSR, and playtested as normal adventures. I don't remember if the Forgotten Realms Gold Box games had pen-and-paper counterparts, but I think the Krynn side of things had to have had them. I remember that the manuals for the Gold Box games had some nice extras in the back that could only have come from a close working relationship with TSR, such as experience charts and spell progressions. And the art on the cover of the Gold Box games I believe all comes from prior products.

    10 Foot Poles were something that diminished in importance as finding traps solidified as more of a thief-specific thing.

  37. Iron Rations! As a dedicated amateur gaming historian, I can clear up the mystery behind iron rations vis-à-vis Jon Peterson's "Playing at the World," a 700+-page scholarly tome on the origins of wargaming and Dungeons & Dragons. Gary Gygax's interest in military history resulted in him placing an anachronistic World War I standard military ration into basic Dungeons & Dragons lore, for reasons likely now forever unknown (though surely in some part because he thought it was amusing to picture a knight eating jerky and hardtack).

    Also I am excited that it finally dawned on me that I could read CRPGAddict on breaks at work, and so now I might actually finally make it past 2011.

    1. Congrats!

      Also, better jerky than lembas.

    2. Thanks for the bit of history. I've always wondered about that term. I confess that I always imagine the adventurers munching powdered iron shavings or something, so I'm glad the term refers to something a little more appetizing.

  38. I loved the intro to the graveyard. That one screenshot you took, then the text changes to something like, "Then a flash of lightning reveals the nightmarish scene of a graveyard turned upside down!", and an animation of lightning lights up the sky. I haven't played this game in over 25 years, but I remember that well.

    It's great when a dungeon has an intro like that. Arena had some beautiful images and texts for its main dungeons too.

    The literally don't make games like this anymore. I'm playing Geneforge 3 right now, and IMO Geneforge is as close as it gets in recent times to the original Gold Box style combat.

    This is my favorite review so far - I enjoyed the game and it's clear you're enjoying it as you write. I don't think any legitimate RPG'er dislikes PoR.

    1. Yeah, PoR and the Geneforge series are near the top of the RPG pile.

      Geneforge is my favourite RPG setting. Non-traditional fantasy that avoids the 'good vs evil' and 'hero saves the world' cliches.

    2. It's funny you mention that intro to the graveyard Paul.

      I had almost forgotten, but the first time I saw that it was raining REALLY hard outside of my home. One of those days where you cannot see more than 20-30 feet due to fog, and it's cold, and damp.

      Needless to say the impact of that simple animation was greatly accented by the weather and conditions outside. Very chilling lol.

  39. More differences and musings from the NES port:

    2) Healing at a temple is ideal as cure light wounds is only 100 gold. Other services are reduced as well.
    3) No mention of the random wizard that assists the party, but turns out to be a pawn of the vampire? Maybe that's new.

    1. No backstabbing might be a dealbreaker for me.

    2. The single most disappointing point. Second is haste not properly doubling attacks per round.

  40. The Valhigen Graveyard - some thoughts

    The first blog entry I read was Chet's thoughts on Wizardry and it's permanent death. This lead to a whole narrative about how dungeons are constructed and how issues of saving the game can alter the challenge in significant ways. Pool of Radiance does not have permanent death and the save function is liberal. You can save virtually anywhere. I, nevertheless, found the graveyard to be an exception in that you cannot rest anywhere in that dungeon. Each expedition by my party lasted only as long as spells and hit points would allow. Thus, clearing this beast required me to camp nearby in the wilderness, subject to attack by wandering monsters, and to make essentially raids into the graveyard. Four raids so far and I am not finished. Unlike other areas, the Kobold caves for example, I do not fear total party kill in this area, but disease and level drain can destroy individual members easily. I have had say, a fighter, level drained. The cleric restores him, but for some reason he underperforms from then on. I can find no reason for this, but that the level drain had some other effect. It does not always happen this way, but it has made Wights, Vampires and Spectres a hated enemy. I'd rather face a room of Juju Zombies, even though the one I fought was unaffected by Magic Missile. That was surprising. So in the end I have to say that the graveyard most approximates the feel of Wizardry's dungeon, only with a better combat system. This game is fun.

    1. That's a really good point, and I agree. The Graveyard comes closer to any other part of the game to recreating that tactical tension.

      I played POR with a strongly self-enforced rule to only allow one save per map. I wonder if that isn't partly responsible for my mentally ranking the game higher than its sequels.

    2. Our liking of this game or that can be funny in that way. I think I will always be fond of Secret of the Silver blades, simply because it was the first crpg that I finished. I felt good about that.


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