Friday, January 11, 2013

Gold Box: Spells and their Uses

I'm afraid of what loving this spell so much says about me.

Note: This was updated on 23 September 2014, after I finished Secret of the Silver Blades, to cover the spells in that game and Champions of Krynn.

In a comment on my "Behold" posting, PetrusOctavianus and Tristan Gall educated me as to the virtues of the "Enlarge" spell, which--oh, stop snickering--increases the size and strength of the subject. Unlike many D&D spells, it increases in potency with the mage's level, such that, according to the game manual, "if the caster is 6th level, the target becomes as strong as an ogre; if the caster is 10th level, the target becomes as strong as a fire giant."

It's an extremely useful spell--a bevy of them cast before a big combat can easily turn the tables--and yet I had entirely overlooked it. 

Because of this, after I finished with Dracandros, I forced myself to spend some time in random ruins, determined to cast every spell in the game and note its effects, not just for this game but for all future ones. (My research was helped considerably by a Ring of Wizardry that we found in Dracandros's tower, which doubles my mage's available first-third level spells.) These are the results of my investigations, with the understanding that I didn't cast all spells against all enemies. What I'm looking for are any comments about spells I may not be giving enough credit (or, I suppose, those that I'm giving too much credit). I'll carry this knowledge to the next game and update this list accordingly.

For experimentation purposes, my cleric memorizes an unconventional list of spells.

This is a long posting, and perhaps serves better as a reference rather than something that you read through all at once. I thought it was important to list all the spells because we're going to encounter this same list again and again--for I think 7 more games.

(I have some broader thoughts about the Vancian magic system, but I'm saving those for a later posting. For those unversed in the D&D spell system, suffice to say that both clerics and mages get a certain number of "spell slots" at each level and must "memorize" the spells during periods of sleeping. Thus, you can only re-stock spells at places and times where it's safe to rest.)

Cleric Spells

First Level

Bless. Increases the party's "to hit" rolls by 1. Not terribly powerful, but it also doesn't hurt to cast it just before combat to give the party a slight edge. I wouldn't waste a round on it in combat.

Curse. Reduces the "to hit" rolls of monsters by 1. Partly because the effects are so paltry and partly because enemies who start the game next to party members are immune, I don't think it's worth a combat round, and unlike "Bless," it can't be cast before combat. I'd rather the priest spent it attacking or casting a better spell.

Cure Light Wounds. Healing only 1-8 hit points, it loses its usefulness at higher levels, but it is helpful for getting unconscious characters on their feet before the end of a battle, mostly so they'll get the experience for the battle. En masse, it's useful outside of combat.

Cause Light Wounds. Damages 1-8. Useless now that my priest is capable of doing more than that with a melee weapon.

Detect Magic. Determines what items are magical. Useful at the end of combats to help figure out what to take. I don't waste a cleric slot on it, though; I have my ranger memorize the comparable mage spell.

Protection from Evil. Improves AC and saving throws by 2 against evil enemies, but only for one character. Theoretically useful, but obviated by the paladin's innate abilities and the fourth-level spell that protects the entire party.

Protection from Good. You rarely fight good characters in this series, even as an evil party. I can't imagine when I'd use this.

Resist Cold. Halves cold-based damage and improves saving throws by 3, but only for one character. I don't think Curse features a single cold-based attacker, but Secret certainly does. Like "Resist Fire," when I find I need it, I'll have my cleric dump everything else, memorize six of these, and re-memorize my older spells after the key combat.

As you can see, the cleric swiftly outgrows the first level. I generally keep a couple of "Bless" in memory and save the rest for "Cure Light Wounds."

Second Level

Find Traps. Does what it says, and with greater success than the thief. But traps are rare. I keep one for when I need it.

Hold Person. Paralyzes up to three humanoid targets. Extremely useful even though it often fails. 

Resist Fire. Halves fire-based damage and improves saving throws by 3. It's more useful in this game than "Resist Cold," since I've faced enemies like efreets and salamanders, but again it's something that you memorize in a hurry when you know you'll need it.

Silence 15' Radius. Prevents the target and those adjacent to him from casting spells. I haven't given this one the attention it deserves, preferring to hold or damage rather than silence spellcasters, though "Silence" seems to have a greater chance of success. You can also cast it on your own party members and then maneuver them into a radius of the enemy spellcasters.

Slow Poison. When a character is poisoned in the game, he immediately "dies." "Neutralize Poison" will cure the poison and revive him; "Slow" will revive him for a while, but when it wears off, the character dies permanently. I think it's too risky to use, and I haven't been poisoned in this game anyway.

Snake Charm. Charms snakes, which actually paralyzes them rather than turning them against the attackers. Why there aren't "charm" spells for other creatures, I don't know. It's useful for one battle in Pool, none in Curse, but quite a few in Secret.

"Snake Charm" came in real handy the one time I faced snakes.
Spiritual Hammer creates a temporary magic hammer that "does normal hammer damage." Rendered obsolete by any magic weapon, or a stock of regular hammers for that matter.

I thus spend almost all of my Level 2 slots on "Hold Person," with one "Find Traps" in reserve.

Third Level

Animate Dead. This spell appeared in Pool but didn't make the transition to the later games, perhaps because the second game didn't have the same NPC system. It basically turns any dead PC into a zombie NPC who no longer gains experience. It has a few potential uses: you could use it on an existing NPC to keep him from getting a share of the treasure, or on elf party members (who otherwise can't be raised, but since you generally have every incentive to keep a living, experience-gaining party (of both PCs and NPCs), it's hard to see using this much.

Bestow Curse. Reduces enemy THAC0 and saving throws by 4. I'm not sure why I'd use this instead of "Cause Blindness," which does the same things and affects the armor class besides. I guess some enemies are probably immune to blindness. Anyway, I rarely get into this kind of statistics-adjusting on the individual level. Maybe in a tough battle with a "boss-level" foe.

Cure Blindness. Does what it says. I've encountered nothing in any Gold Box game (so far) that blinds me.
Cause Blindness. Blinds one's enemy and thus "reduces the target's THAC0, armor class, and saving throws by 4." I'm assuming this is a typo, and that it increases the AC by 4, or I'm inadvertently helping them. In any event, I should probably spend a slot on it for those rare occasions when a single tank-like fighter gives me trouble, but generally I've ignored it.

Cure Disease. Does what it says, although I haven't found any disease-causing agents in Curse or Secret. I often keep one around, just in case.

Cause Disease. "Gives the target a disease that saps his strength and HP." Without knowing exactly how much, I'm not sure I trust the spell enough to spend a slot on it.

Dispel Magic. Removes the effects of general magic spells. Very useful, and I always keep a few handy for characters who get held or charmed. I found it was less useful in Secret, since almost anything it dispels is ineffective against my characters' heightened saving throws.

Prayer. Improves "to hit" rolls and saving throws of the party by 1 while simultaneously reducing enemies' by 1. Like casting "Bless" and "Curse" at the same time, but it actually stacks with "Bless" and can be cast outside combat. I always have at least one of these ready for pre-combat buffing.

Prayer is an important component in pre-combat buffing.
Remove Curse. Dispels "Curse" spells and cursed items. Enemies rarely curse me, but it's useful for the occasional cursed item. I find it easier to memorize and cast it when I need it rather than carrying it around.

Fourth Level

Cure Serious Wounds. Supposed to heal 3-17. I find that it almost always heals the low end of that range; otherwise it would be more useful than "Cure Light Wounds" in combat.
Cause Serious Wounds. I've decided to carry one of these around. It does 3-17 damage--often less than my melee weapon, but with a near-100% chance of working. Good for when you absolutely must cause damage, or finish off an enemy, this round.

Neutralize Poison. Obviously useful for when it happens, but I've yet to experience it in Curse. I got poisoned a lot more in Pool of Radiance, and it seems odd that it's such a high-level spell. (In Secret, poison came back significantly.)

Poison. Target has to make a saving throw versus poison or die. From my experimentation, I need to spend more slots on this. It often doesn't work, but when it does work, the instant kill is very satisfying.

Protection from Evil, 10' Radius. Like the regular "Protection from Evil," but affects everyone in a radius. I prefer this one for its mass effect, and I almost always use it as a buffing spell before combat.Yes, my paladin has it innately, but it's not easy to keep everyone next to the paladin. If I cast a couple of these on other party members, I increase the odds that everyone will benefit.

Sticks to Snakes. Perhaps the silliest spell in the cleric repertoire. The caster hurls a bunch of sticks at the enemy, which turn into snakes and occupy the target for a few rounds. It almost always fails, and even when it succeeds, it's not nearly as useful as "Hold" spells.

I've typically memorized only "Cure Serious Wounds" and "Protection from Evil" at this level, but thanks to my research, I'm spreading things out a little more.

Fifth Level

Cure Critical Wounds. It supposedly heals 6-27, but like it's predecessor, I find that it's almost always at the low end of the range. I like to keep one to heal melee characters in combat, though most characters who get so low they need it are highly likely to get knocked unconscious (or killed) in the following round anyway.

Cause Critical Wounds. Does 6-27 damage with no saving throw. Has similar virtues to "Cause Serious Wounds," but since it occupies the same spell level as "Slay Living," I think the latter is a better use of the slot.

Dispel Evil. An odd one. Supposedly, when cast on a party member, it improves the character's armor class by 7 "versus summoned evil creatures." When the character hits an evil creature in combat, "it must save versus spells or be dispelled." The problem is, I don't know what constitutes a "summoned creature." If it's limited to those summoned in combat, that literally has never happened, and I don't think the spells even exist in this game.

Flame Strike: 6-48 damage on one target with a chance that the target will make a saving throw and receive half damage. Sounds good, but I think "Slay Living" is a better use of the spell slot.

Raise Dead: Raises dead characters. Useful, of course, but raising characters in this version of the AD&D rules, whether by spell or temple, subtracts a point of constitution. Also, the system of "unconsciousness" in the Gold Box series (characters with between 0 and -10 hit points become "unconscious" instead of killed; if bandaged, they can be revived at the end of the combat) means that individual characters rarely die without taking the entire party with them. I don't keep it memorized.

Slay Living. The enemy target has to make a save versus death or die. But even if he makes the save, he still loses 3-17 hit points. Since even at its worst, it does almost as much damage as "Cause Critical Wounds" or "Flame Strike," and has a chance of causing instant death besides, I find it a better use of the slot than either of those.

I use fifth-level slots almost entirely for "Slay Living," with perhaps one "Cure Critical Wounds" in reserve.

Sixth Level

Heal. Cures disease, blindness, feeblemindedness, and restores all except 1-4 hit points. I don't know why it couldn't restore all hit points, but whatever. One of only two Level 6 spells, and it's too useful to bother with the other.

Harm. Does "terrible damage" to a living creature, leaving only 1-4 hit points. "Heal" is so useful that I haven't taken to memorizing "Harm," so I don't really know if the enemies get saving throws or what. If not, I suppose I could be persuaded to learn it once I have three Level 6 slots.

Magic-User Spells

First Level

Burning Hands. Does 1 point of fire damage per level of the caster. Even with no saving throw, underperforms "Magic Missile" at any level.

Charm Person. Turns one humanoid opponent to your side. It's awesome when it works, but it hardly ever does. I usually keep one around.

Detect Magic. Same as the cleric spell. It's worth having a few memorized to help sort through the post-combat equipment, but I prefer to have my ranger do it.

Enlarge. This is the spell that prompted my investigations. It basically makes every character a better melee fighter. I try to keep enough to cast on my weaker characters before a big battle.

Reduce. Negates an "Enlarge" spell if active, otherwise reduces an enemy in size and power. It seemed promising, but it disappeared after Curse of the Azure Bonds.

Friends. Raises the caster's charisma by 2-8. I have no idea when I would use this spell, or for what reason. I haven't seen any encounters dependent on charisma, and it's not like you have to eke every gold piece out of a shopkeeper in this series.

Magic Missile. An excellent offensive spell that just gets better as the mage increases levels. Each missile only does 2-5 damage, but a Level 11 mage casts 6 of them at once. It casts instantly, there's no saving throw, it has a huge range, and hardly anyone is immune to them.

Protection from Evil. Same as the cleric spell of the same name. No way I'm wasting a first-level mage slot on this.

Protection from Good. Just as useless as the analogous cleric spell, even for evil parties. It disappeared from the mage repertoire after Curse.

Read Magic. Serves as an "identify" spell, but only for magic scrolls. I rarely need to identify them so quickly that I can't just wait until the party gets back to town.

Shield. Protects against magic missile, increases armor class, and improves saving throws. This is another one that I've been completely ignoring and probably serves as a decent pre-combat buffing spell.

Shocking Grasp. Does 1-8 damage plus 1 per level of the caster. Thus, after Level 5, it underperforms "Magic Missile." I've never used it because "Magic Missile" casts at a range and you need to be next to the enemy for "Shocking Grasp." I suppose at low levels it might be a good emergency spell for when enemies charge the mage in melee.

Sleep. Puts 1-16 enemies to sleep. It was great in Pool of Radiance, but it only works on low-level enemies. It hasn't worked once for me in Curse. It mysteriously remains in the Secret manual despite being effective on none of the enemies in the game.

"Sleep" was fantastic against low-level monsters in Pool of Radiance

(As an aside, every time I cast either "Sleep" or "Hold," I can't help but think how horrible it would be to be a victim of one of those spells. In the thick of combat, arrows flying, swords singing, and suddenly your limbs or paralyzed, or you feel your self collapse lethargically to the ground. At that point, you know it's just a matter of time before one of your foes comes over to administer the killing blow while you're helpless, and you won't even be able to defend yourself. If magic was real, "Sleep" and "Hold" would be outlawed by the Geneva Convention.)
Lots of spells in Level 1, but I generally keep my slots filled with only three of them: "Charm Person," "Enlarge," and "Magic Missile."

Second Level

Detect Invisibility. Does what it says, allowing party members to target invisible creatures (who are normally untargetable). Few enemies have this ability, and it's tough to determine when an enemy is invisible (he still shows up on the screen; you have to notice that the game won't let you target him).

Invisibility. Makes the target invisible, reducing "to hit" rolls of melee attackers by 4 and making it impossible for enemies to target ranged weapons or spells. But as in most games, it disappears when the character makes an attack or casts a spell. I suppose it would be useful when fleeing (which I never do) or perhaps to protect a spellcaster for the first round.

Knock. Opens locks. There have been a few of these in the game, but the thief's picking skill usually does the trick, and "bashing" works when that fails. I often keep one in memory just in case.

Mirror Image. Creates 1-4 duplicates of the caster which disappear when attacked. A useful protective spell, and I keep one in memory to cast before difficult combats.

Ray of Enfeeblement. Makes the target weak to the tune of -25% strength plus -2% per level of the caster (that's -47% at my level). Theoretically valuable against tough melee opponents, but I've been ignoring it, particularly since you have to already be in melee range to cast it.

Stinking Cloud. Creates a 2x2 square of noxious gas. At best (but rarely), it paralyzes targets. At worst, it prevents them from casting spells and increases their armor class. As some commenters have pointed out, aside from its direct benefits, it's useful because monsters won't walk into it, so you can use it to shape the battlefield the way you want. I usually have one or two at hand for that purpose, or to cast on groups of spellcasters.

Strength. Raises strength by 1-8, but only to a maximum of 18(00). (Why this and "Friends," but not spells that increase the other attributes?) Before I found out about "Enlarge," I used it a lot pre-combat to make decent melee fighters out of my weaker character. But "Enlarge" doesn't have the cap, so it performs a lot better. I keep a couple of "Strength" spells memorized only so I don't spend six slots on "Enlarge."

There are fairly useful spells at this level, although I wish there were a couple of directly-offensive ones (when does "Melf's Acid Arrow" appear?). I keep the slots spread between "Mirror Image," "Stinking Cloud," and "Strength."

Third Level

Blink. Protects the magic user by having him "blink out" after he acts each round, making it impossible for anyone to hit or target him. It would be fantastic, especially for those rounds in which the mage goes early, except that there are so many other awesome third-level spells.
Dispel Magic. Removes magic effects from one character. Great spell, but I prefer to use the cleric version and save the Level 3 spell slots for other mage spells.

Fireball. Perhaps the most useful spell in the game, or at least the one I like the most. Does 1d6 per damage for every level of the caster, and over an enormous 37-square area indoors. When I face a large group of enemies all bunched together, I get tingles. Enemies often make saving throws for half-damage, but even then it can disrupt every enemy spellcaster and soften them up spectacularly. It never gets old.

An arrangement custom-made for a fireball.
Haste. Doubles the movement of the party, including the number of melee attacks per round. The effects are great, but it comes at the high price of aging the party one year every time it's cast. Only worth it for very difficult boss battles.

Hold Person. Same as the cleric spell, but affects 4 targets instead of 3. I prefer to leave this to the clerics.

Invisibility, 10' radius. Same as "Invisibility," but can affect every character if cast at the beginning of combat. It's a good way to start combat right, and to make the party immune to spellcasters who go before the party members. A good use of this spell is to "Delay" all character actions until the end of the round, after every foe has moved (and generally done something ineffective). I suppose you could memorize multiple iterations of the spell and ensure that your mage goes last every round, effectively giving your party unfettered ranged attacks for a few rounds.

Lightning Bolt. Another fantastic spell, vying with "Fireball" for usefulness. It also does 1d6 damage per level, but in a straight line of 4-8 squares (and it will even rebound off walls). It's great for when enemies line up instead of "bunching."

Protection from Evil, 10' Radius. Same as the cleric spell, and since there are so many useful Level 3 mage spells, I prefer to leave this one to the clerics.

Protection from Good, 10' Radius. I can't imagine a greater waste of a Level 3 mage slot.

Protection from Normal Missiles. Makes the caster immune to non-magic missile weapons. These are relatively rare in the game. The spell would perhaps be useful if enemies with missile weapons had better AI and tried to target the mage, but they don't. I can't see spending a slot on it.

Slow. Halves targets' movements and melee attacks. It affects one enemy per level of the caster. It seems like a useful spell that I've generally ignored in favor of "Lightning Bolt" and "Fireball." I should experiment with it more.

As you can see, Level 3 has some spectacular spells. I wish more of these had been available at Level 2 or Level 4. I generally prioritize "Fireball" and "Lightning Bolt" but keep an "Invisibility, 10' Radius" and "Haste" in reserve when I start to get more than 3 or 4 Level 3 slots.

Fourth Level

Charm Monster. Works like "Charm Person" but on any creature. It has a greater chance of success (though still not high) and affects more than one monster. It's always useful to turn an enemy to your side.
Confusion. Puts 2-16 targets in a confused state, which sometimes makes them flee, sometimes makes them attack their comrades, and sometimes makes them just stand around. Another spell that I haven't given as much attention to as it deserves. It often fails.

Dimension Door. Teleports the mage from one point on the battlefield to another. I can't think of any reason I'd use this except to escape, and intelligent movement of the mage means you'll never be in a position where it's necessary.

Fear. Causes enemies to flee. That sounds nice in theory, but you actually want to avoid fleeing enemies. At best, you have to chase them down or take them out with missile weapons. At worst, they escape off the screen, and you don't get their experience or items. "Confusion" is a better use of the slot.

Fire Shield. A neat spell that shrouds the mage in either flames or ice. Not only does it protect against attacks of the same kind, but creatures who hit the mage in melee combat receives twice the damage they cause in return. A nice punishing spell, and I like to cast it before battle. I'm not a big fan of enemies who cast it.

Fumble. Affects one target and causes him to just stand around. If it fails, the target still comes under the effects of a "Slow" spell. I guess it could be useful, but at this level we should be way past targeting one enemy at a time. [Later edit: In the comments below, PetrusOctavianus says that it works well against dragons, who have lousy saving throws, making them "forget" to use their breath attacks.]

Ice Storm. 3-30 hit points of damage to a 21-square area, with no saving throw. It's a useful mass-damage spell, but unlike "Fireball" it doesn't increase in damage as the mage increases in level. I like to keep one around for enemies immune to fire damage.

Minor Globe of Invulnerability. Protects the mage against first- through third-level spells. Potentially useful, but I don't often face enough enemy mages that I can't disrupt their spellcasting. Outclassed by "Globe of Invulnerability" later.

Remove Curse. Same as the third-level cleric spell. Since it's rarely needed, I wouldn't waste a mage spell slot on it.

Bestow Curse. Again, same as the third-level cleric spell. It makes a single melee fighter a little weaker and more vulnerable. It seems very weak for a fourth-level mage spell, and it's gone by Secret of the Silver Blades.

For fourth-level spells, I rarely go outside "Charm Monster," "Confusion," "Fire Shield," and "Ice Storm."

Fifth Level

Cloud Kill. Creates a 3x3 area of poison gas in which lower-level enemies instantly die. This is a great spell in the Infinity Engine games because enemies that don't die instantly take damage every round. I remember a few areas in which I had fun opening a door, firing off a "Cloud Kill," slamming the door shut, and watching my foes take continual damage for five or six rounds. The Gold Box version doesn't do damage to enemies it doesn't kill, though, making it much less useful. It also has a miserable casting range of only 2 squares, and it centers where you cast it.

Viola fails to kill an ettin with a "Cloudkill."

Cone of Cold. 2-5 damage per caster level to all targets in a "cone shaped area." I have a really tough time lining up the spell to hit the enemies I want (and none of my allies), but it's the only really sure-thing offensive spell at this level.

Feeblemind. Reduces the intelligence and wisdom of the target to 3, which makes him incapable of casting spells and worsens saving throws. I keep one on hand for boss-level magic users, although I find that they usually save against it.

Hold Monster. Works like "Hold Person" but on any monster, and up to 4 targets per casting. It often fails, but it's fantastic when it works, allowing any character to kill the monster with an immediate coup de grâce.

I tend to load up on "Hold Monster" at this level, perhaps keeping one "Feeblemind" and one "Cone of Cold."

Sixth Level

Death Spell. Immediately kills opponents in adjacent squares to where it's cast. Awesome when it works, but I find that high-level foes almost always save against it.

Disintegrate. Instant kill on one target. Doesn't work on some creatures, but a surprising number of high-level foes will fall to it.

Flesh to Stone. Petrifies enemies who don't make a saving throw. I guess what I need to do is work out whether this works more often than "Disintegrate" or vice versa, as they both have the same effect.

Globe of Invulnerability. Protects against all spells of Level 1-4. I think it's an absolutely essential buffing spell for mages, keeping them from getting disrupted by "Hold Peson," "Fireball," "Lightning Bolt," or "Magic Missile" before they can cast.

Stone to Flesh. Counters the effects of stoning, which happens so often in Secret of the Silver Blades that you need to keep at least one in memory.

Tough choices at this level. Each is useful enough to have one in inventory, but you only get 2 or 3.

Seventh Level

Delayed Blast Fireball. A more powerful version of "Fireball" that defeats globes of invulnerability. The "delay" part doesn't make any sense in the Gold Box engine--in fact, it casts instantly, which "Fireball" doesn't--but otherwise just as awesome as "Fireball."

Mass Invisibility. I guess this is useful to avoid having to keep everyone bunched together after casting "Invisibility, 10' Radius." Otherwise duplicates that spell, so I wouldn't waste what could be another "Fireball' on it.

Power Word, Stun. A curiously lame spell for such a high level. It effects only one creature, the caster has to be directly adjacent to the target, and unlike "Hold," stunning just makes the enemy inert; it doesn't freeze him for a coup de grâce like "Hold." The only thing I can think is that enemies need higher saving throws against it? Either way, "Fireball" is the better option.

No question here: every slot goes to "Delayed Blast Fireball."

Druid Spells

Although the Gold Box series doesn't allow a druid class, there are a small selection of druid spells available to rangers.

First Level

Detect Magic. Works the same as the mage and cleric spells. Since druid spells are otherwise less useful than the ranger simply attacking for a round, I have him memorize these exclusively.

Entangle. Keeps a target from moving, which sounds nice, but it only works outdoors, where I rarely fight. Again, I'd just have the ranger attack.

Faerie Fire. Creates a halo around the enemy and reduces armor class by 2. I can't see spending a round on it.

Invisibility to Animals. Does what it says. For those rare battles exclusively with animals (I literally can't think of one in Curse or Secret), you might as well use the regular mage "Invisibility" spell.

Second Level

Barkskin. A decent buffing spell that reduces AC by 1. It certainly doesn't hurt anything.

Charm Person or Mammal. Like the first-level mage spell but affects any mammal. By the time you get it, most foes have strong saving throws and the ranger is such a good attacker, it's hard to see him spending a round on this. But I should experiment more.

Cure Light Wounds. Same as the first-level cleric spell. Useful for an extra couple of castings.

I tend to memorize "Barkskin" and "Cure Light Wounds" exclusively.

Closing Thoughts

A lot of the spells I've tagged as "useless" are largely about micromanaging statistics: increasing hit rolls and saving throws for the party, decreasing them from the enemy, boosting immunity to certain spell types, and so forth. To me, such spells would make more sense if the combats lasted a lot longer, but the battle against the beholder corps aside, I can't think of one that has lasted more than four or five rounds.

I'm perfectly happy to do this tweaking in camp, just before entering a big battle, but not at the expense of a spell slot better used for an offensive spell, and certainly not at the expense of some action while in combat. I'd much rather just take a swing at an enemy, hitting or missing, than to spend a round casting a spell that might increase my chances of hitting by 20% in the next round.

My tactics might change in later games if the enemies themselves change. There was one memorable battle in Dracondrus's tower with a high-level Drow fighter with a very low armor class and over 100 hit points. Even though I was overpowered for the area, many of my attacks swished by him, and he did a good job pounding down my hit points with multiple attacks per round. If there were more battles like this--against small groups of very powerful foes--it might make more sense to me to have my priests and mages dancing in the periphery of combat, casting spells that slightly altered my melee fighters' odds. We'll see if that happens in later games.

I will update and re-post this entry after I experience Secret of the Silver Blades and Champions of Krynn in 1990, and I'll make edits based on comments that you leave below.


  1. You should write a book on Game Design one day, detailing how to make the perfect CRPG.

    You honestly think about this stuff too much man, might as well put it to some use, hahaha.

    No joke, theoretical game design is growing massively and game design has successfully entered academic study, though results from that are slow to seep into the industry.

    1. I appreciate the encouragement. That's what my series of "Perfect RPG" postings are supposed to do; if someone wants to pay me for them, I'll be happy to cash the check.

    2. Old post, so apologies if this has been brought up already, but I would certainly buy a physical book you publish on the subject!

  2. Excellent post!

    Some comments:

    Dispel Evil: it doesn't only affect melee attacks. Missile attacks also work. I think it will work on any "evil" (so not elementals) creature from another plane. I haven't used it that much, but it was effective against some Minions of Bane in Pools of Darkness.

    Enlarge: at higher levels this spell lasts several hours, so you can cast it when you enter a new level and explore most or all of it before needing to recast it. Unless I have 3+ Girdles of Giant Strength it's easily my favourite lvl 1 spell at higher levels.
    At lower levels Sleep and Charm Person are great, while Magic Missile is a spell I only keep for emergencies, for when that high level spell caster with -10 AC is about to cast a Fireball spell, for example.

    " So far in Curse, I haven't encountered any invisible targets."
    Dracandros was invisible. Sadly it's impossible to see what buffs enemies have in the Gold Box games, unlike the IE games, but when you can't target an enemy that usually means he's invisible.

    Of third level mage spells I like Slow. You often get more than enough Fireballs and Lightinging Bolts from wands, but having some spells for the extra damage compared to the wands is nice.

    Of the fourth level mage spells I don't like Ice Storm. It does nothing a Wand of Ice Storm can't do faster.

    Fumble is actually a underrated spell that worlds well against lone or small packs of Dragons. Dragons have poor saving throws and will usually fail their rolls, making them forget to breath on you. It's somewhat safer for the mage than Stinking Clude since the mage need not get up close, but the downside is that it affects only one target.
    Still, great before you get Hold Monsters and Power Word - Stun, which is the other great Dragon disablers.

    Confusion can be great fun against large groups of monsters, so is one of the 4th level spells I usually keep memorized.

    Cloud Kill: It does do damage to enemies that are too high level to be killed by it. Can be very useful against mages since they will not be able to cast while in the cloud. _Extremely_ useful against mages that are protected by a Globe.

    Feeblemind: never tried this. I guess it would be useful against well protected mages that could be hard to hit physcially or with low level spells.

    1. Thanks, Petrus. I made some edits based on your comments. A couple notes:

      Wands: if I'm not mistaken, wands of fireball and lightning bolt do less damage than the spells because they don't use the mage's level as a multiplier.

      Cloud Kill: At least in CotAB, it doesn't damage creatures it doesn't kill. I've tested it several times. No one, including my own party members, takes damage even after standing within it for multiple rounds.

    2. Yes, you are right about the wands. I think they are based on a fixed level.

      Regarding Cloud Kill, I guess that is _yet_ another instance of something working differently in different games. Fortunately it works in the games where you really want to cast it on enemy spell casters, like Dark Queen of Krynn.

    3. Wands cast spells as either the base level to cast the spell, or double the spell level... I can't remember exactly.

      Necklace of missiles have different levels for each fireball on the necklace.

  3. Reduce doesn't just counter enlarge (According to AD&D rules anyways), it also can 'reduce to the same ratio as enlarge'.

    Thus if you reduce a creature, you can basically turn them into 'mice to stomp on'. Not sure how well it works in game, but keep in mind that you can use it on enemy that are not enlarged. IIRC every level of spellcaster improves the spell by 10% (ie. level 1 = 10%, 2 = 20%) until the enemy is reduced to 10% of its size. Which effectively means that their damage would be * 0.1. (Always round up) Does not affect anything else (chance to hit them or chance for them to hit you etc)

    1. Yeah this spell is overpowered as written. I always made it's impact be based on the DIFFERENCE between the hit dice of caster and subject. Even if a 10th level fighter fails his save, a 10th level mage shouldn't be able to make him 6 inches tall with a low level spell. On the other hand, a 10th level mage making a 1st level fighter into a newt-size creature seems quite appropriate. It's also highly effective and appropriate when used on inanimate objects -- a mage shrinking a locked door out of its frame is a classic example.

    2. Thanks for the correction. The manual makes it sound like it just negates "Enlarge" rather than doing the opposite of "Enlarge." I'lle xperiment with it in the next game.

  4. This magic system doesnt really lend itself to epic wizard duels.
    There was a spell like entangle in the infinity engine games which was very dangerous to my party, I rarely had the counter-spell which I think was dispell?

  5. Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn does the best job of any game I've ever seen with implementing an impressive and effective array of spells. This is particularly true with the high level spells, which are much harder to implement. Later in the game, having the right high level spells memorized becomes essential when you are playing on higher difficulty. Not surprisingly, the manual for BG2:SoA is huge. I created my own reference tabs for it, so that I could easily find the spell descriptions for each level.

    Dragon's Age actually did quite a good job with it's spells also. But you have to play on the hardest difficulty in order to really appreciate that. At lower difficulties you can just faceroll enemies. But the highest difficulty forces you to use stuns and shields and heals and fears and interrupts in order to survive. I hear that the player-created traps are also highly effective although I never used them, relying instead on two spellcasters.

    I was a big fan of Dragon's Age actually...and what they did with DA2 was an abomination. Sure it's entertaining to mow down the whole field of enemies with two whirl-winding warriors, but when that's the most effective tactic in EVERY battle then the gameplay is just dumb.

    Wizardry 8 had a very interesting spellcasting system also (very different from previous Wizardry games). Unfortunately the damage spells were extremely underpowered. Stun and debuff spells were very useful, but the low damage of area of effect damage spells made then nearly useless relative to the damage output of the warrior, samurai, monk, and ranger classes.

  6. Cause Serious Wounds: You called it "Cause Light Wounds" dude.

    Poison: Saving throw vs. poison is the easiest to make, and high level monsters have good saving throws. Save vs. spells (hold person) is the hardest saving throw.

    Dispel Evil: for use against demons and other otherworldly foes.

    Charm Person: I like using Charm Person in gold box games. Get a fighter or mage on my side. I find it works well as a low level spell for magic-users, they cast it instead of throwing darts. I'm not a big fan of magic missile except as a "flyswatter" spell (to slay an enemy who needs to die this round right away). I see from the movies you cast it all the time.

    Friends: I think there were some encounters in Pool of Radiance that used the party leader's charisma. But I think they discarded or forgot about this mechanic in later titles. The later gold box games always seemed to me too frustratingly focused on larger and more complex combats than using nifty bits of the rules. I think they left in Friends because nobody wanted to spend any time on those icky 1st level spells.

    Strength: Doesn't it only increase strength to 18? Yeah, my characters all already have strength 18...uhh...

    Haste: I think there is no code to kill off elderly characters. Haste away.

    Fire Shield: A favorite of my Fighter/Magic-user characters. I love this combination in goldbox games.

    The reason spells are "useless" is because they're directly copied from the real D&D. A lot of these make sense, but not in a computer game where casting one means digging through menus and finding a place to rest after combat. Too much trouble, too many combats. Just bull your way through them, it's faster and less trouble.

    1. Thanks. I fixed the "Wounds" error and added a few more notes. I'm still a little confused as to how "Dispel Evil" is supposed to work. What foes in POR or CotAB would it have worked on?

    2. Oh, and there was some discussion on another posting where people said that old characters do have a chance of death at the beginning of each combat round.

  7. When I played Curse many years ago, I found casting Silence 15' Radius one my own front line fighters was a a huge help against magic resistant drow. I never saw it fail on my own fighters, possibly the game mechanics dont allow a save against it if its cast by a friendly? In any case it worked much better then when used directly on the drow.

    1. Nathan is right. The best use of Silence is to cast it on one of your own party members and then position them next to the enemy spell casters.

      If the enemy spell casters are in the back, another neat trick is to cast Dimension Door so that your mage can zip to the back ranks and then Silence them. At least in straight melee, your mage may stand a chance.

      Even nicer is when that same mage has a wand that can be used in the area of Silence (enemy AI will not use items, so they will never have wands at the ready, even if they are carrying them).

    2. It never even occurred to me to cast "Silence" on my own party members. Thanks for that tip.

      It strikes me that your "Silence" and "Dimension Door" trick depends on a lot of luck--specifically, two characters getting the initiative in the right order.

    3. I remember finding this one by accident. I wanted to cast it on an enemy but I actually targeted my fighter. I was surprised how well it worked still.

    4. Silence is a very underrated and useful spell. I always kept at least one slot for it because it came in handy when facing many enemy mages. Depending on how the enemy was clustered during battle, it would sometimes payoff to cast a silence to get more mages or clerics silenced than what hold person could do in one turn (theoretically up to 9 enemy silenced!). That is a huge advantage compared to three held casters if it worked. As other people have mentioned, throwing it on one your fighters or thief worked well, because you could then position them in the proper place for maximum effect. This became more important in Curse and beyond where you would face groups spellcasters more frequently at one time than you would in PoR.

  8. Dear CRPG addict,

    Good post. You summed up well many strenghts and weaknesses of the individual spells. In the Yulash part of COAB, I found Slow, Hold Monster, and Charm monster to be most useful against Shambling Mounds and Bits of Moandar.
    Otherwise, my selection of spells mirrors your use.

    I suppose the biggest problem with this system is the lack of variety. Every battle used usually the same group of spells, both for clerical and magical spells. I wish there had been more situations, like with the Shambling mounds, so that you would have to use a greater variety of spells. Too often, Gold box relies on mass rather than expertise, in creating opposition to the party.


  9. It may interest some to know that the original version of Final Fantasy 1 (for the NES console) used a Vancian system of magic, where each spellcaster had 3 slots per level of 9 spell levels, and could choose between 4 different spells in each one.
    You bought spells in shops, and as you leveled up, you gained more uses of each. Once you used your allotment, you'd need to rest if you wanted to cast more. (I.e. if you could cast 3 1st level and 1 2nd, once you cast any 3 1st level you'd have rest to cast more but still could cast one of the 2nd level spells you had bought).

    Unfortunately, some of the more interesting spells were bugged, so as to be useless.

    1. The original Final Fantasy's magic system is a prime example of aping something without rejiggering it for the context of the new campaign. For instance, IIRC, a monster is supposed to up from sleep on any given turn if its current HP is greater than a 1d80... but past the first few hours, virtually every monster has much more than this, and by the endgame random monsters have 300-800 HP.

  10. While a lot of those spells aren't useful in this game, I see the advantage of coding them all once, then reusing them in later games. It saves the expense, and force the player to choose the useful ones. Also it saves on dev costs later on.

    In most D&D games I've played battles against small numbers of strong foes are a lot more common then large numbers of weak ones. I understand this has changed over time however, and that large numbers of weak ones were more common back in Mr Gygax's day.

    Also um, if I'd know you were having trouble with what the spells did I would have hooked you up with a copy of the AD&D rules.

  11. I was a Pen & Paper player before a video game player. And I was ecstatic when I saw D&D rules in video game.

    But, now, I think those game were great despite being based on D&D.
    D&D is the worst possible system for a video game.
    Sleeping at every corner of a dungeon to memorize spell make no sense, and that what we all end up doing. It breaks immersion, it's tedious, it transform magic into a convenient store.

    Plus, half the spells are meant for P&P and roleplay (friends, detect evil, create food, etc) in a video game they hardly serve any purpose.

    And that's just spell, when we come to gears, or combat it's even worst: You have 2 best armor (light for thief, and plate for warrior) that's all (with just magic armor +1 to +5 for a bit of flair). You have one best available weapon. No choice. Again wielding a scimitar, or a short sword, is a roleplay decision on P&P (I'm a Pirate ARRR), on video game it make no sense cause the weapon is useless.

    And the game is meant to have very low calculation and numbers , your stats doesnt change. While the only advantage of a computer is keeping track of number, and de/increasing them. Yeah the whole D&D in video game is the greatest waste of all. How cool could Baldurs' Gate have been with a nice system like SPECIAL from fallout or wizardy system?

    1. And even so, the AD&D CRPGs are still among the best. How man party based CRPGs are better than the Gold Box and Infinity Engine games? Not many?

      And regarding resting: personally I try to conserve magic and never rest more than once each day, and it actually works in most areas in the GB games, even Pools of Darkness and Dark Queen of Krynn.
      There's little subtlety, and thus little fun to me, to just unleash all magic, rest, rinse and repeat.
      I get the impression that some players use this "tactic" to "get past the boring battles". To me that is nonsens, since the combat is the juicy part of the GB games, and really what they are all about.

    2. See, I don't think it is that bad a system. It has some weaknesses, as outlined above, but some strengths. The classes are well differentiated from one another, magic items are easy to tell apart (None of this 'this adds +43 to attack, and +23 to defence, is that better then +46 to attack and +11 to HP?), there is a wide range of monsters you can use (if the game implements them) and so on. Could you make a better system? Sure, GURPS for example. BUt I don't think it is as bad as you say.

    3. Oh! Canageek, Petrus, the D&D system is so bad for a crpg my fingers hurts just typing about how bad it is. And I like it a lot (in P&P)

      Addict addressed earlier the problem of Leveling: Past level 6, it come so slowly it's boring. And except for wizard, you hardly have any sense of progression (+1 THaC0? +3 HP? Seriously? That's +5% chance to hit after hours of play)

      Let's Look at the Phantasie system. Same period as GoldBox.
      It take some idea from D&D (the class, the stats) but spells are different (and much more interesting with a use in all of them).
      Leveling come at a steady pace, you have skill raising at every level. You even have damage localization, dismemberment.
      It show how great GoldBox or BG could have been with a less faithful to D&D set of rules. Sure those are great game, but D&D rules did not help one inch (OK world and monster are cool, I agree, but rules?!!)

      The best implementation of D&D, for me, is The Temple of Elemental Evil (ToEE), by the team from Arcanum and Fallout.
      They implemented 2.5 (and some ADD 3) rule-set. It's very satisfying. But after the first few level it's the same shit all over again: Sleeping after each fight. Overpowered spell compares to other. Only sense of progression is by finding new magic item, and winning an epic battle, just tied to a failed or succeeded SaveThrow (reload feast).

    4. People have gone on an on about how bad AD&D is. Yet I still have to see any CRPGs that are significantly better than the AD&D ones. Even finding more than a handful that are equally good or marginally better is a problem.

      Why is that? I mean if AD&D is so obviosuly bad, it shouldn't be that hard to come up with something better for the computer games?

    5. That's really a matter of taste, isn't it? I haven't played the Gold Box games, but I found Infinity Engine quite unplayable, mainly due to characters running around randomly. (Planescape:Torment was the only exception, and it was good despite the dreadful combat system.)

      Games that are better... where do I start? Might and Magic, Wizardry, Dungeon Master - most games that threw out the terrible AD&D model in favour of something more friendly to computer games.

    6. If you haven't played the Gold Box games and have given up on the IE games "due to characters running around randomly", then you are hardly in position to claim the mentioned games are better.
      I've played them all (except Wiz 1-5,8) and the best of them are on par with the Gold Box games, but none of them are significantly better than any of the AD&D games. And both M&M and Wizardry are heavily infuenced by AD&D and use many of its "terrible" mechanics, like AC, stats and Hit Points, so they are hardly good examples of games that are very different from AD&D.

      The quality and commercial success of not only the Gold Box games, but also of the Infinity Engine games, and the fact that there are so few, if any, significantly better CRPGs out there, is more than enough emperical evidence to me that AD&D is not a terrible or user unfriendly model for computer games.

    7. Fact is, many people then (and now) saw it as a plus that the Gold Box and Infinity Engine games hewed closely to the AD&D (and later 3rd edition D&D) rules. There's something to be said for authenticity for those who were familiar with the D&D/AD&D system.

      That said, the original AD&D spells did not fit into an ideal "get more powerful as you level up" concept that we have all become more accustomed-to within RPG systems. The underlying idea of the spells (most of them set as early as the 1974 iteration of Dungeons & Dragons) was the level of complexity for the caster, not the level of usefulness. Just look at the fact that one of the most-powerful spells in pen-and-paper D&D (at least before high-level play) is Sleep -- a 1st-level spell.

      Beginning with the Third Edition of its rules, D&D (and now also Pathfinder RPG) put more attention into the power level of various spells. Temple of Elemental Evil was based ENTIRELY on 3rd Edition rules (not 2.5), and is an excellent tactical/combat game in my opinion.

      One thing I think the Gold Box games should have allowed was to use higher-level spell slots for lower-level spells. It would have meant that you could memorize a few more instances of Fireball in your 4th- and 5th-level slots. But alas that would have been a house rule, and not a faithful reproduction of the AD&D rules as written, which again was a major design (and marketing) goal of the Gold Box and Infinity Engine games

    8. TOEE is pure 3rd edition (not, I don't think, 3.5, though I might be wrong) D&D. If it had more to it than a big dungeon crawl and Troika had survived to polish and expand it, it would really have been something. As it is it's still some of the best combat in a CRPG.

    9. Yeah, 3rd edition was a huge upgrade in terms of D&D. Keep in mind, a lot of the spells were cut as they don't do anything in the RPG. Also, in tabletop play there are a lot more uses for each spell. Imagine the uses for Sticks to Snakes that would never come up in a CRPG; inciting a panic at a banquet for example.

      4th edition would be really great for use in a Fire Emblem type tactical RPG. 3.5 would be better for a traditional iso-RPG, and I wish more games used it or Pathfinder.

      Other advantages of the system: Less junk magic items. Small range of stats means even a +1 makes you sit up and take notice. I like the fact that magic items have clearly defined effects, the different types of wands and things.

    10. As far as I can tell (and Wikipedia agree) ToEE is 3.5 edition.

    11. The D&D rules are good for high-stakes rolling. Where a roll of a d20 can mean winning a close battle or not. For the well-prepared, all the little spells and micromanagement options the player has can help so that there aren't very many close fights. In those cases, the player party take their licks and generally come out on top.

      This is a gameplay loop. It's not better or worse than other roleplaying systems, it depends on how you like to play.

      JRGs do away with the high-cost rolls where you don't know if you're going to hit or miss, you dependably do more damage, you have more HP so it's more of a battle of attrition and player party level is almost always surfaced deliberately as the most important statistic to know if you're going to lose or win. I think it ties in somehow to an examination of class in japanese society, but let's leave that aside.

      That the AD&D games on the computer are well-beloved doesn't necessarily speak so much to the strength of the ruleset but the ubiquity of it; People would buy a TSR product because they basically already knew the manual. I know I did! I used to run AD&D for years. So people bought these games, they made more of them, they edged out the competition.

      As a computer game system, the D&D rules are quirky and have a strange gameplay loop, though I guess it's hard for me not to like them. I just don't like seeing this staunch defense of them as if their success was due to the system being robust. It's not.

      Petrus Octavianus is making two different arguments. One is that he's played all the other games and he still thinks the Gold Box and Infinity Engine games are mostly as good or better than them, to which I have nothing to say than "great for you!". The other argument is that if AD&D as a ruleset is bad, why did people not come up with something significantly better - to which the answer is the same as to why so many people played D&D in the '70s and '80s instead of a number of "D&D killers" like Tunnels and Trolls or Rolemaster or Pendragon or whatever else. Because the license has a great pull. People are interested in what they recognise.

      Any rpg game designer worth their salt can improve on the Gold Box era AD&D gameplay loop. Many have. The Spiderweb games are a great example. Or Aethra's Chronicles (rolemaster ruleset). The Dark Heart of Uukrul, as we've seen is a much more robust system (though of smaller scope to the combats). We'll see more in the very blog in the future.

      What is difficult to improve upon is the heritage of the D&D production lines and especially of the Forgotten Realms. That's difficult to beat. It's difficult to beat knowing right off the bat what halflings and dwarves and elves and plate mail +1 mean exactly in mechanical terms. All other systems get a suspicious look for the D&D inclined.

    12. What is more hilarious is that the Project Eternity dev team has been blogging about MOST of these issues, almost point for point and how they want to address them. ^^

    13. "Addict addressed earlier the problem of Leveling: Past level 6, it come so slowly it's boring. And except for wizard, you hardly have any sense of progression (+1 THaC0? +3 HP? Seriously? That's +5% chance to hit after hours of play)"

      I think slow levelling isn't a bad thing at all. I can explore wilderness areas without worrying too much about overlevelling my party. I actually notice when I level, unlike in the current game I'm playing where it happens so often I don't even notice (The Last Story, for Wii. Someone levels almost every fight).

      Also, I strongly suspect that if you gave more then 5% on attack roles every level it wouldn't work, as you'd suddenly start slaughtering all the foes around you, and you'd have to make the bump in foe strength between areas so large as to be insane.

      Also; More complicated isn't always better. Torchlite has an incredibly detailed system, 5 or six stats, items can effect any of them, and they each tie into various abilities, that I can't really understand, so I pick weapons based on the Damage Per Second rating, which renders that whole system moot as I just see a wall of green and red numbers.

    14. Helm-

      D&D benefited greatly from being the first well-known system out of the gate. The quality of the rules system had little to do with it, as long as it wasn't completely unintelligible and unplayable.

      The biggest advantage it had was critical mass- if you wanted to find an RPG game, chances were best to find people who knew how to play D&D. It takes time and investment(so many books) to try switching to a different system, especially if the hundred bucks or so you spent on new rulebooks would turn out to be wasted.

      Most of the problems 1st and 2nd edition D&D had is that they were multiple separate rule systems grafted onto each other- a base combat system from medieval war-gaming, a system for special skills only for thieves, and a magic system that quickly out-sized the rest. Or compare human dual-classing vs. multi-classing, and figuring out the interactions between class restrictions.

    15. Helm, I had absolutely no experience with AD&D when I played the Gold Box games, as well as most of the other classic CRPGs.
      That I loved the GB games had nothing to do with it being AD&D. So I just observe that my favourite old school CRPGs happen to be based on what many claim to be a "terrible" system, and I can't help but wonder why significantly better games were not made using superior systems.
      If if was only one game or game series we could say it was just a fluke, but then the Infinity Engine games came along, and were IMO even better than the Gold Box games. Sure, I guess knowing the Gold Box games helped me appreciate the IE game more, but still...that both my favourite old school as well as my favourite "modern" CRPGs should be based on the same "terrible" system (of which I have minimal experience), can't be a coincidence.
      Logically such a "terrible" system should not produce some of the very best games in the genre.

    16. The Infinity Engine games are some of my favourite games in spite of the magic system, not because of it. I'm not saying that the AD&D system is terrible, but it's not great either. If I think back, several other of my favourite games had lousy magic systems (such as Ultima 7; did anyone ever actually cast a combat spell in that game?) I personally think that the Might and Magic 6 magic system and the Dragon Age: Origins magic systems are better than the AD&D system, and although its a Strategy game, HoMM3 has my favourite magic system of all time. I'm trying to think of what other party based magic systems are out there, as it wouldn't really be appropriate to compare single player games I think.

    17. Most games, wether they used a Vancian or mana based magic system, suffered from the same problem: too many useless spells, and there's always a few spells that are superior to the rest. Might&Magic was definitely like this, with most of the "clever" spells never working. HoMM 3 was better than the regular M&M's in that respect, although it too suffered from some useless spells, like "Hypnotize", and "Blind" was rather overpowered. Still, it had some clever spells that I really liked, like "Berzerk" and "Teleport".

      Ultima also suffered from lots of useless spells. But part of the problem was that the Ultima games were too easy, so you rarely needed spells. There were a few clever ones, though. I especially liked using "Confuse" on large groups of Mongbats in Ultima 5.

      I'd say BG2 has one of the better magic systems, partly due to all the "mage duel" spells, where you need a good arsenal of spells to debuff your enemies.
      All in all I found myself using a much wider variety of spells in the IE games than I did in the Gold Box games, because the spells were generally better implemented and more balanced.

      Dungeon Master and Chaos Strikes Back also had a pretty good magic system. There were few spells, but all were unique and useful in certains situations, and you could even decide how much mana to put into them.

    18. Too many spells is an affliction that just about affects every game. I always laugh at games that have the line "Over 100 spells!!!" on the back of the box as a feature, because you know that you will maybe cast 15 of them in the game.

    19. I do not think the AD&D base is terrible. Just odd and quirky. I know it inside out and most dungeon masters will attest that the quirkyness is an asset sometimes for paper and pencil play, not so much for a computer simulation.

      And the games you love you don't love just because of the system, but because of the deep lore involved, that's not an argument to sidestep.

      As to other games that are better mechanically than Gold Box stuff, you've asked this a lot and you've gotten numerous replies with cited games which I can only presume you liked less than the Gold Box games and that's absolutely fine; Other people like those other games better, though. I don't know what you're expecting by repeating the question.

    20. Helm: And yet none of those regularly make best RPG lists (Like BG does), none of those are getting re-releases 14 years later; not even a remake, but the original game dusted off a bit and re-released. Basically, none of those are remembered today at all, outside of a few CRPG geeks. Baldur's Gate is still getting NEW people to play it.

    21. Baldur's Gate I and II are an amazing feat of width and breadth of content foremost. There's just so much game there. So much lore. So many characters. So many quests. So much to do. So much to experience. That's what makes them a great go-to for new and old players alike. It's not the second edition D&D ruleset in its spine. That is at best servicable, with the added bonus of being so familiar from older games that it can be easily minmaxed by ambitious players.

    22. Helm: I don't think the rules system hurt it though, and I think it added a lot, even using the worst edition of D&D (AD&D, 2nd edition, with the unbalanced skills & powers and kits of later editions). Small enemies can still be a threat if you are careless. The diversity of weapons. A lot more spells then just about any other game, which sure, you memorize the same ones over and over, but I've got a case of scrolls ready for that special situation. More interesting monsters then just about any other CRPG, even with the tiny selection they use in the game, and with their cut-down abilities.

      The one thing I do like about 2nd edition is that you don't rely on buffs as much as 3rd edition, and they HP spiral hadn't started yet, which made combat a lot faster, and involve a lot less standing around hacking at each other.

  12. Stinking Cloud is, I believe, a 2x2, not 4x4.

    GREAT post. This answered NUMEROUS questions I have had for years about the GB games :)

  13. One subtlety to some of the targeted spells, like Hold Person, is that if you cast it on less targets the targets get reduced savings throws. According to the tabletop book, Hold Monster gives a normal save if 3 or 4 are targetted, -1 for 2 targets, and -3 to the save if only a single target is chosen. Savings throw is based on a d20, so -3 is a 15% better chance to hold. In general, it's usually better to hold as many targets as possible, but if you really need that one guy held....

    1. The manual for the game doesn't say anything about that, though; are we sure that the programmers implemented that rule?

    2. This sounds familiar to me as well. Sounds like research is in order.

    3. I've been playing through PoR (you either inspired or corrupted me!), and when you try to hit the same target twice, you get an error message ("already been targeted"). Pity.

    4. But that doesn't rule out that casting it on fewer targets (which is possible) will increase the odds of those fewer targets being affected.
      But nobody seems to know for certain wether this was programmed into the Gold Box games or not.

    5. How do you cast on fewer targets? I haven't been able to manage it -- as far as I know, the spell won't go off until you've chosen enough targets, and you can't, as I said, hit the same target twice. Is there a trick I'm missing? (Please say yes!)

    6. No, you can definitely cast it on fewer targets. You just "Exit" after selecting the one or two that you want to cast it on. As Petrus says, though, I never had any confidence that it was increasing my odds on the one or two targets that I did select.

    7. Thanks! Learn something new every day....

  14. It would be useful if you could take up a 2nd level slot with a 1st level spell. In later D&D games (such as Neverwinter Nights and Temple of Elemental Evil) you can get feats that lets you do this somewhat (such as maximize spell, etc.).

    1. That would be nice especially at higher levels, so that you can use more lvl 7 spells like Delayed Blast Fireball and Power Word - Stun. A lvl 8 spell like Power Word - Blind is more useless than nipples on breastplate.

    2. In later editions you can always use a higher level slot for a lower level spell, you just only get a benefit for doing so with a Metamagic feat. That said, there are more useful spells in 3rd edition, so I never felt the need to do that as a cleric.

    3. Not to mention, in 3rd edition (or was it 3.5 edition?), you can spontaneously cast healing spells of equal or lesser level in place of the memorized spell...that is probably my favorite rules change from 2nd ed to 3rd ed rules. (I can't really speak for 1st ed to 2nd ed; other than this PoR series of games, I have no exposure to 1st ed rules.)

    4. That depends on alignment and class. Good clerics get healing spells, evil clerics get damage spells, druids get summon spells. I -think- neutral clerics get one or the other based on deity but I forget.

    5. Yes, you are right, but the point is, you can give up a "tough" spell for one the class should know by heart because it is their bread and butter.

      I think you are right with neutral, and it depended on deity, although I don't know that for sure; I always used good clerics to fill that role in any D&D3-based CRPG game.

      It would be nice if each specialist mage class also got a similar benefit, able to spontaneously cast a first-level spell from their specialty school (or perhaps any equal-level spell from specialty school? That may be too strong though). I think that makes more sense than the extra spell memorization, and may make it a true specialty school, as opposed to essentially an evaluation of what the opposition schools are.

      (That said, I'm not a pen-and-paper D&D 3.5 expert; I played a little but not much at all, so I may be forgetting a pen-and-paper nuance here.)

    6. Neutral clerics follow their God's aliment. If their god is neutral they get to choose healing or harming.

      Druids are the only ones who get summoning spells spontaneously.

      Pathfinder ads more benefits for being a specialized wizard, including more 'generalists get screwed' *Grumble*

  15. just echoing that I think strength only puts it up to 18, will have to check next time. I ind confusion does work a lot better than fear. Fear doesn't work much, and if it does you still have to chase them down. With confusion (best used on large groups) several of the effects leave their round wasted but still close by for your fighters to chop up. Hmm I remember some monsters would enter stinking clouds, maybe this depends which game you are on, its a very useful spell, unfortunately npcs on your side could well happily charge into it and put themselves out of action(I think). Magic missile isn't just for finishing off enemies but also one fairly solid way of stopping casters from casting. It has a fairly fast cast time so if an enemy mage/cleric has started casting something slower you may be able to interrupt them.

    1. You are correct about "Strength." I updated the posting with that and a note about "Fear."

  16. I am generally of the same opinion as you regarding spells -- the buffs are generally not worth it.

    However, in the Might & Magic series, I think the buffs are more useful than in your general RPG series, especially your D&D-based RPG series. (For example, in M&M6, "Bless" is extremely useful, and is something I cast before or during nearly every battle.) I can't put my finger on exactly why, but here are my guesses:

    (1) Statistics Range: Might & Magic has a much larger statistics range (all characters start significantly lower in stats than you will achieve later in the game, so that +5 Might temporarily really does help)
    (2) All stats are useful to a "beginner" party (not all for each character, but all stats tend to be useful for *someone* if your party is balanced)
    (3) Spell points-based system instead of a spell memorization-based system; this may be the single biggest reason, as now "bless" may still take 1 action, but it is also only 1 SP for the entire party to be blessed, so it doesn't reduce your casting power on future rounds as dramatically as taking up 20% (or more) of your casting power for that particular spell level.

    I think D&D-based CRPGs are great, but I *really* wish they would move to a Spell Points-based system (or at least, create a new class with a Spell Points-based system -- possibly with a different spell book); I think it could make some of the less common spells more useful.

    1. Let me clarify, though: I often think the buffs aren't worth it as a use of an action in combat. Pre-combat, there's no reason not to load up on all the statistical advantages you can get.

      I think your analysis of M&M is spot-on. I would add, though, that the blessings you get from priests, which cast every available protective spell in greater power and duration than your own party can cast, mean that I rarely bothered to cast any of the spells myself.

    2. They added a psionics system that was power point based- it was highly reviled in 2nd edition-mainly due to game imbalance, a psionic user could overwhelm any non-trained opponent in mental combat, it would short-circuit almost any social interaction challenge or deception, and the magic systems interacted weirdly (did dispel magic affect psionics or could magic block it?).

      At its best, it managed to do a different flavor. Psionics spells were pretty much all either self-buffing or single target; a nice contrast against the fireball tossing wizards. The only CRPG it showed up in were the Dark Sun ones (Shattered Lands, Wake of the Ravager) that won't come up for quite a while. Dark Sun at least was designed for psionics from the ground up- everyone was a wild talent, with some base ability in a single power and ability to resist mental attacks.

    3. Yes, buffs in advance are pretty common-sense...but in D&D, they still carry what can be a pretty hefty opportunity that boost really better than launching 5 magic missiles almost instantaneously at a target one more time?

      I realized also I didn't explain it too well regarding stats. In Might and Magic, stats are expected to increase significantly over the course of the game...of course in either D&D or M&M, stat increases matter. But in M&M, they are expected, so encounters are balanced to expect higher stats over time, so spells that have more significant stat boosts can be included. In D&D, you can go for a very long time without a stat changing at all, so stat boosts given by spells are relatively limited for that reason.

      That said, I still think BG2 is the best CRPG ever, and the Infinity Engine games in general are extremely the drawbacks aren't enough to kill the game for me. I just wish there were also Spell Point-based systems in D&D...I don't think that would "break" D&D encounters, as long as a new spell book and new class were used. In fact, M&M2 encounters (which I grew up with as my first encounters) seem nearly identical my limited experience with pen-and-paper D&D, with the major exception of the spell casting, and movement (although MM2 does try to simulate this to a small degree by considering who is "engaged"). I don't think M&M was perfect, by any means, but I do think the magic system was superior, if your definition of superior is "more spells are considered useful".

      You are right about temples, though -- I would consider that a flaw of the M&M series.

  17. Games that are as good or better than the Gold Box or Infinity Engine games:

    -The Eternal Dagger: Like Wizard's Crown, but removed most of the annoying parts. Tactical combat system that had fewer, but more useful spells and better tactical options (you could wall in the opposition with Change Terrain, for example); huge variety of magic items; no "save or die" spells, and an interesting, but complicated character building system.

    -Wizardry 8: The goofy setting is made up for with a spell list that has interesting and useful spells at every level, and all types of combat (ranged, melee, magic) are interesting and useful. Also gets points for the crafting system, which is unfortunately not well hinted-at in the game, so requires lots of experimentation.

    -Fallout: like the Infinity Engine games, but turn-based combat gives you more interesting tactical options.

    The main problem in my book with the Gold Box games is they made the wrong design choices for spells and magic items, and they don't give you (at least in the ones that I've played) Auto-buff and auto-memorize lists to save you time in camp. I get really tired of manually casting 4 Enlarge spells every time I camp; ditto for manually selecting *every* spell for memorization.

    For magic items, you can't ID your own items, so you end up having to waste time going back to town to ID items. The game doesn't tell you what a "Periapt of Health" or "Boots of Speed" actually does, so you have to guess. Also, the rules are inconsistently implemented. In Curse of the Azure Bonds, my Human Dual Class Fighter/Thief could use a shield and wear plate mail and still backstab, but in Secret of the Silver Blades, he can't. But they don't tell you that in the rulebook or in game. You have to find out yourself what your character would already know.

    1. Yup, the inconsistent rules are annoying.

      But what's so tactical about Fallout? You control one character, so how tactical can it get?
      If you controled a party, maybe?
      But as it is you don't have control over your companions, and tactics mostly consists of making head shots.

    2. I note most of your problems are with the implementation of the rules, rather then the rules themselves.

      Also, they are limited to the Gold Box games, Baldur's Gate included a right click screen with far more details on the item, and a huge manual explaining the rules system; something no other game I've seen has actually done (explained the math behind the screen)

    3. "But what's so tactical about Fallout? You control one character, so how tactical can it get?"

      Extremely. Managing cover is of utmost importance, and very satisfying when pulled off. Fallout has one of the absolute best tactical combat systems in RPGs. Play it and you'll see.

      Also even if you can't directly control your NPC buddies, that doesn't mean you don't have to figure them in.

  18. The big problem for me with AD&D Magic is the memorizing, meaning that you can't use any interesting spells on the fly because you took the safe route and just memorized fireball and magic missile. The Dark Sun games, for me, are the best when it comes to this because although you get the same spells per level as gold box, you can use it on whichever spell you choose. This means that if you suddenly stumble upon a group of archers you can use wall of fog instead of just wishing you had it memorized. This allows for far more strategies without having to second guess the encounter (or reload/save scum as most do with GB/IE games). I am certainly looking forward to when the addict reaches the Dark Sun games, some of the epic battles I had in those games, in particular Wake of the Ravager, are some of my fondest gaming memoires.

    1. I agree in part, but I actually think Spell Points are a better system. I would cite the Sorcerer as an example in AD&D. The Sorcerer does pretty much what you describe, but it doesn't fix the issue that some spells are weaker than others, but still cost the same to cast (one of a small number of spell slots).

      A Spell Point system, like in the Might & Magic series, means it isn't as great a sacrifice of future casting capacity...for example, if Fireball cost 10 spell points and Bless cast 1 spell point, and your character had 51 max spell points, you ONLY lose a tempo casting still can do your Fireball 5 times, just as before.

      You also can choose to sacrifice higher-level spells (which generally require more spell points) to cast lower-level spells multiple times, which solves that issue at the same time.

      I just don't see a big downside to a Spell Point system, and see a lot of advantage. It is actually a simplification as need to separately track memorized spells versus spell book; instead, you have a number that is tracked in a similar method to Hit Points.

    2. The downside to a spell points system is that it removes the strategic part of the magic system.
      Also, if you use spell points it just becomes yet another generic magic system, and it ceases to be the unique AD&D system.
      Why does everything have to be the same, and why can't we have something that is unique (Vancian magic)?


    3. TDE for example translates much better into CRPGs than DnD. It's funny, because Realms of Arkania and Drakensangs were clearly influenced by Goldboxes and BGs respectively, but both turned out better games due to a much more varied gameplay. The problem with the majority of DnD-based games is that because of combat-centric rules they consist of mostly combat, combat and then again more combat, which gets old and tyring pretty fast. For RoAs on the other hand combat (which is no less tactical than in GBs) even isn't the main activity to engage in - you have equally developed system for survival, travelling, money-making, foraging and alchemy. Not to mention lots of puzzles and encounters that depend on the use of utility spells and skills.

      Betrayal at Krondor, later Magic Candles and Wizards&Warriors - all offer richer experience than the GBs or IEs. And if we move out of the turn-based combat party CRPG terrytory there are also Quests for Glory, Arx Fatalis, Fallouts and Daggerfall/Morrowind to name a few.

    4. Also, as I named originally, the Might & Magic series uses a completely different system (including Spell Points), and is right up there on most people's lists as one of the top CRPG series of all time. I still maintain some hope that 3DO's purchasers may one day decide to build an actual CRPG again (as opposed to the Heroes of M&M hybrid), although at this point that hope may be a fool's hope.

      You are right, not every system has to be the same -- there is some merit to having the differences. My point is, it is easier to balance spells if you have an additional cost parameter to tweak (in addition to spell level) than it is to balance spells in D&D...but as with any tradeoff, there are pros and cons. If the con is that some spells seem worthless because of the opportunity cost of memorizing that spell instead of another, the spell point system does solve that issue.

    5. Magic Candle introduced logistics to CRPGs, which is something I often miss in the AD&D games. It probably is the only game where you can actually do something useful when on a ship. In Tales of the Sword Coast time doesn't even pass when you take a ship to the Werewolf Island.

      Betrayal is a unique blend of complex story and open world; I wish there were more of this kind.

      Warriors&Wizards...I dunno, I prefered DW Bradley's Wizardy 6 and 7.

      All very good games, but I don't think they are significantly better than the AD&D games.

      They may have more variation in game play, especially Magic Candle and Krondor, but the AD&D games are unsurpassed when it comes to combat system and encounter design, and to me that is the most important aspect of a CRPG.

    6. Good discussion. I essentially agree with everyone. I generally prefer spell-point-based systems, and yet I recognize the unique tactical challenges that come with Vancian magic, and losing those challenges would remove a lot of the flavor from D&D-based games.

      You can even role-play spell memorization. Think of a gnome illusionist who prefers to have an expansive bag of tricks and memorizes one of everything versus an insane elf mage who's in love with fire, loading up on "Burning Hands," "Fireball, "Fire Shield," and so on.

    7. To each his own, I guess. I for example wouldn't mind even a completely combatless CRPG ;)

      I liked W&W, with all its bugs and stupid plot, better than Wizardries for that very reason - better balance of combat vs non-combat gameplay (some of the best dungeon design I've ever seen in CRPGs also helps though).

      As for magic systems, I think Arx Fatalis did it best: it forced you to prepare your combat spells in advance (as drawing them while under attack would get you killed pretty fast), but didn't require rest-spamming to replenish them and didn't limit you in any way (apart from mana) in utility spells.

    8. Then I recommend Unrest, a CRPG that can have absolutely zero combat from start to end.

  19. In the original POR, Animate dead was useful, particularly when cast on NPC mercenaries. If they died, you could raise them, steal their stuff, and still use them as fighters. If they were killed again, they could be raised again, or simply left dead as a nice item bank. You did have to be a evil cleric for this.

    1. Huh. I just realized that "Animate Dead" didn't make the transition to CotAB.

  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Right. But what's important is does Dr. Igodo prefer Fireball or Lightning Bolt when facing down drow mages and clerics? And, does he have any protection abilities versus Tyranthraxus? We may need him to come to Phlan's aid at some point, by golly!

    2. That little bit of comment spam was weird enough that it was too bad to delete it.

    3. And to think that they wouldn't waste their time unless at least one person fell for the scam is scary.
      If anyone has ever fell for such a poorly written scam, with horrible grammar and spelling, I feel sorry for the human race.
      It was certainly funny though :)

  21. If Dr. Igodo has taught me anything it is that the vancian magic system is not the best mechananic, or format, for magic in CRPG's. He has taught me that games are fun because of the "mental duel" between you and the programmer/computer. Fights are fun, but the proper preparation given the proper information rewards me the most.
    Say you are warned of the dangers in the swamp through the good people of the tavern and, of course, good ol Doc igodo, so you prepare ahead of time for the upcoming struggle.
    You prepare the old stand by fireball, as well as several other "time for a costco size can of aswhoopin" spells
    ... things go well because using information gleaned beforehand allowed you to meet that challenge with a chance of success, given you took from the info the best possible functional data (shit u can use).
    That's great, a fair test of your perception/attention was given, and you passed.
    Many times, though, special enemies you face will come at you with no warning (what good is a game with no surprises?) and with little respect for the spell repertoire you currently possess. Your barrage of fireballs bounce of them and you die just after seeing your one rogue Ice Storm spell do triple damage.
    Whats the point? (If you think reloading is fine and doesn't break the immersiveness you got me.)
    You do what we all do and reload. That's fun. Reloading. Especially back in the day when it took a good 5 minutes to do so.
    A better system, figured out by every Jrpg out there, except FF1 it seems, (the one that got away... never had an NES) figured it out long ago, as well as several other top-notch American crpg's.
    A mana/spell point system solves all of this. It also allows for use of the spells that are of a very peculiar nature. Spells with very little use outside of well defined situations which rarely arise. These are often unused because it seems a waste.
    All being said, however, I still thoroughly enjoy the D&D based games, despite this system. They usually have a rich atmosphere and great characters and story telling. I would be hard pressed to find an RPG better than the BG series.
    If the idea of being able to (and seemingly encouraged) reload all the time were not present, I would say hell yeah, keep it, but as it is, it adds nothing to the game that isn't going to be circumvented by the agile reloader.
    It makes sense on pen and paper, but not on a hard coded computer.

    1. Your arguments echo what I started to write about Vancian magic in a posting I haven't issued yet, and I generally agree with you in my preference for a "Mana" system. But I do think that a Vancian system allows for some unique tactical challenges. Spells become more like an "inventory" that you prepare before setting out on an adventure, and you have to carefully decide what to pack based on what you know about the area from NPCs, rumors, and so forth--maybe even a little scouting. If, when you arrive, you find that your spell selection was insufficient, that's just another way for the developer to throw an obstacle in your path, and you have to roll with those punches to defeat your enemies anyway. In a non-Vancian system, there's no way to introduce this particular type of challenge.

      Yes, reloading is the ultimate deus ex machina for game-players, which is why I try to limit my save games. As you point out, back in the 1980s, that might take 5 minutes of disk-swapping and loading, so there were consequences to death, and intelligent players had real incentives to avoid it.

    2. I think a hybrid approach might work well: have specific, limited opportunities to select a spell loadout, but give the player the ability to cast any currently available spell at any time, depleting an overall mana bar based on the cost of the selected spell. So you'd still need to plan your loadout based on what sort of encounters you expect to have, but you don't need to worry about whether you have the specific right number of poison curing spells or whatever.

    3. Perhaps a system where you can cast anything you want until your SP are gone, but the spells you memorized are far cheaper than the ones you have not memorized.
      So, your fireballs you memorized cost a discounted 20SP, down from 50SP when it is not memorized.
      All spells could follow this idea, allowing that "sticks to snakes" you would never waste a spot on, but at a much greater cost than it would be had you memorized it.

    4. Ryan: That would indeed be a cool system. Too bad there aren't any games that use it.

    5. OK, maybe it's a little silly to respond to someone's argument from 2 years ago, but then again, this is a game from nearly 20 years ago...

      The problem with MP systems is that they tend to encourage players to just use the same spell every single fight. I remember playing the original FF1, and you basically needed to stock up 99 potions for every serious dungeon dive, but in the GBA remake, I could just have my paladins spam Cure1 like crazy after every fight because those spells cost less than 1% of my MP per casting, and it made the game a cakewalk. There wasn't the sense that you needed to save your spells from your best spell levels for the right fights, because it was all just one linear measure of how full the MP tanks were before I had to drop back off to the town to pay for a refueling. In boss fights, I could drop nukes all day. It took an interesting system, and turned it one-dimensional. And that was a "3rd ed Sorcerer" system, where you bought your spells ahead of time.

      In fact, I find the Vancian system is actually one of the best solutions to a very common problem in RPGs, which is that they tend to offer a ton of options at some hypothetical point at the start of the game when you are building your party, but where it's nearly impossible to change anything mid-game. If you think reloading after a bad battle is annoying, try restarting the game to try a different character build. If you want a hybrid system, games like Dragon's Dogma does it fairly well, letting you stack 6 skills/spells, and having them fueled by a stamina bar. For that matter, most modern MMO or MMO-inspired games based upon "cards" for spells and skills that have a cooldown tend to work like this, letting you swap out skills but also having an MP bar.

      As for having more expensive non-memorized spells, I don't think it would work out to make the game better. D&D already had a system where it was basically expected you memorize the spells you knew you were going to use a lot, then keep scrolls for things like neutralize poison or stone to flesh you likely weren't going to need a lot, but when you needed, you really needed. (And in fact, purchasable scrolls are a really good solution to the problem you list, in general...) What would happen is it would take away any reason for the player to doubt making fireball their number one spell, and leaving the situational spells to just be more expensive, since you'll just have to fall back when you run low on MP, anyway. There would be zero reason to even consider anything but the most generally useful of spells, and throw strategic planning out the window.

      What's actually needed is more chances to actually use intelligence-gathering more usefully. Most CRPGs are built with a "kick in the door" mentality in mind, but I remember playing Baldur's Gate 2 as a wizard PC, and using the wizard's eye spell to map out what the baddies around the next corner would be, especially in some of the godawful beholder or illithid-infested dungeons where I really needed the edge. The actual pen-and-paper game also has a whole spell school dedicated to just finding out information on what you might fight tomorrow morning, giving you a clue what to put into your spellbook that night.

  22. It's interesting to me that your choices for which spells to use and which to leave behind are nearly identical to those that I make when playing Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II.

    There are so many spells in those games yet I only use (maybe) 5-10, total. I always thought that I was just unimaginative or lazy. Now I wonder if most of them are just as useless as they seem.

    1. I don't think most of the spells that we don't use are "useless"; I think they just don't fit our playing styles. We all have our quirks. One of mine is that I'll almost always choose the spell whose effect I can see (like a damage spell) over one that promises an impalpable boost in the underlying statistics.

    2. That's certainly a more nuanced view.

      Still, if spell slots weren't limited by level, most of my mages in BG and BG2 would basically have 1 or 2 haste spells and then ~20 magic missiles :)

    3. Addict: You might want to work on that one. In Baldur's Gate for example has spells such as Web and Entangle are the most useful I've found, and buff spells are generally more powerful then attack spells. By 3rd edition this is *very* true, as Haste no longer ages you, and they add more buff spells. Even I'm not taking advantage of them, as I don't feel like relearning 2nd edition to figure out what all the spells do.

    4. In the BG games I'd much rather have 20 Chromatic Orbs than 20 Magic Missiles. MM "only" do damage and most mages are protected against it by buffing with the Shield spell, while there is no specific counter against CO, and at higher levels it has a chance of Stoning thee target or doing other nasty stuff. Since there is no Enlarge spell in the IE games, CO is my favourite lvl 1 spell.

    5. A quick aside on the statistics of D&D.

      The older editions of D&D have a much sharper divide between the magic and physical combat rules. 2nd edition especially, mages are practically useless for physical attacks but all magic automatically hits (and then potentially gets blocked by magic resistance or reduced by a saving throw).

      If you build a magic-heavy party, then the physical based fighters are primarily there to act as blockers to keep the enemy away from your casters. Their damage output is generally to finish off weakened enemies or deal with things immune to magic. If the majority of your damage output doesn't come from weapons, then buff spells become progressively less important. The downside is the need for frequent rests, the damage spells tend to be the higher level ones and you have much fewer slots available for those. Positioning is important only in terms of spell range and grouping of targets.

      Another normal style is the magic-light party- minimizing casting to maximize time between rests. With the non-casters outnumbering the casters, buffs that affect the entire party's chance to hit become more powerful. Positioning focuses on avoiding enemy spellcasting (don't bunch up if they have fireballs, use walls to limit line-of-sight of casters and force them to come closer), or surrounding enemies for thief backstab damage. For single target buffs, it is generally best to pick one party member to be the designated hero to do the most damage output. Buffs to strength help your characters with their chance to hit as well as how much damage they do. If your thief has under-18 strength, his backstab multiplier will see the biggest benefit.

      D&D is a d20 based game for physical combat- all attacks are made using a 20 sided die for the random chance portion. To hit an unarmored person who isn't defending, you get a base 50% chance to hit (vs. a base armor class of 10). Any bonuses you have to hit make it 5% easier per point; each point of AC away from 10 makes it 5% harder to be hit. Generally, a 20 always hits and a 1 always misses. If a target you are attacking has an armor class of 0 in 2nd edition rules, then with no bonuses you could only hit them on a 20(5% chance). Adding a single bless spell for +1 to hit would double your (still rare) chances to hit.

      Remember the fighting in the sewers were your party seemed unable to hit anything? A commenter pointed out that they gave everyone a -2 penalty to attacks down there (because it was cramped, dark, and unfamiliar?).

  23. Snake Charm is in 1e for the same reason mages had a spell called "Rope Trick," ie Gary was pulling from every magical tradition he could think of when creating the spell lists.
    Also, the problem with some spells being at the "wrong" level comes from the idea of reversing a beneficial spell into a harmful one.

  24. A nice use of invisibility is to precast it on your thief.
    In round one he can now safely position himself without fear of opportunity attacks for a powerful +4 back stab.

    1. That's a good tip.

      I found a Ring of Invisibility at one point, but I typically didn't wear it because I had this idea that it would disappear after being worn for a while. That was stupid, wasn't it? I was thinking of another game.

    2. Rings of Invisibility are great. It means the wearer will _start_ each round invisible. So it's much better than simple invisibility spells or potions, but not quite as effective as Dust of Disappearance.
      When I find a RoI I give it to my Fighter/Thief so that (s)he can move freely to get in position for backstabs. Also nice for mages with low AC to avoid being targeted by enemy archers, but as you noted elsewhere tha AI is not smart enough to target your mage(s) anyway, so better to use the RoI in a more proactive manner.

      But typically enough, the RoI doesn't work properly in all the GB games.

      What other game were you thinking about? Ultima V?

  25. Hmm.. I think I prefer mana-based magic systems.... Whenever I play a caster I always go for the "direct" effects. I played the Elder Scrolls games with an extreme focus on damage dealing spells, always thinking that I should use alteration/mysticism/Illusion spells more. However, I like doibng quests, I like getting XP, as a consequence, I always end up entering signifcant fights on a higher level, which makes detailed tactics irrelevant. Maybe more difficult combat would make me use buff/debuff spells more... I learned their value by playing MMORPGS where buffs make all the difference. And also, I haven't seen single player RPGS that put that much effort in designing their "boss fights". Very often, the spells that kill your random encounter enemies also kill the bosses. There's no need to diversify.
    I get the impression that the vancian system adds some unnecessary complication. Is it more interesting because it makes the fights more challenging? I don't know... I played NWN long ago but can't remember much of the gameplay anymore. So I guess it didn't bother me back then... When I played Planescape Torment I had to rely on my wand during the end-game, and generally talked my way out of fights. The wand circumvented the whole memorization process... I've restarted Baldur's Gate yesterday...let's see how I do there...
    The idea of resting after every fight doesn't appeal to me. I always think that it's a cheap trick.

  26. Spiritual Hammer:
    I used this a lot in some parts of PoR. Hold Person won't work against undead, animals and many other opponents, Spiritual Hammer will. And it's the first ranged attack-spell your cleric gets (and the only one you'll get in PoR).

    Burning Hands:
    I'm not sure about the GoldBox-version of the spell, but it might have an area of effect, making it possible to hit more than one target. Unfortunately the area starts at the casters hand, making it not the best coice for a mage standing behind the fighters.

    Dispel Evil:
    You might be able to dispel Efreets, as they should qualify as Outsiders. Never tried this, however.

    Dimension Door:
    This is the easiest (and often fastest) way to position your mage for a lightning bolt.

    Neutralise Poison is a "high" level spell because it's the reversed form of Poison.

    Animate Dead:
    Another possible use: Healing an unconcious partymember in combat won't let him continue fighting, but animating a dead partymember will allow him to reenter the fight. (Just make sure to kill him again after the fight, so you'll be able to raise him.)

  27. Depending on how well implemented the game is and how closely it follows AD&D some others might be useful:

    Protection from [good/evil]: Also is supposed to block mind-affecting compulsions. Theoretically it should counter the azure bonds during its duration (This probably isn't allowed for plot reasons.)

    Bestow Curse: Unlike Blindness, this is permanent until dispelled or Remove Cursed. If the game is well-programmed, this would be useful on recurring villains.

    Cause Disease: Not permanent, but definitely long-lasting. Again, if the game is well programmed it should be useful on any enemies who make a habit of running away and attacking later.

    1. Depending on the edition Prot. Evil sometimes only protects against NEW mind control, but can't free you from existing mind control.

  28. just played por again after 15 years. i cheated and maxed everything out. i loved going through the roleplaying with very little chance of death. chester, your thoughts of playing god-like just to see all that can happen?

    1. It's fun for a little while but swiftly gets boring.

  29. I'm having having trouble understanding the blast radius of fireballs (and spells in general). I've played the NES version of PoR about half a dozen times, and in that version you can see the area of effect of all spells. In the DOS version, however, I'm constantly blowing myself up. The manual for Curse of the Azure Bonds (which I just started), says that fireball has a radius of "2' indoors and 3' outdoors". I don't understand what that means--I can say with certainty that it does not mean the radius is 2 squares!

    1. That's a blatant lie on the manual's part, since "Fireball" actually has a lesser radius outdoors.

      Indoors, if you center on where the fireball will be cast, it will affect every square except three in each corner: the corner squares themselves, and the two squares immediately adjacent to them horizontally and vertically. Outdoors, I believe the area of effect moves inward by one square in all directions. I hope that helps.

    2. I double checked the manual, it that was an error on my part--it does say that it is larger indoors than outdoors. Interestingly, the radius of fireball was bigger outdoors in PoR on NES.

      Your advice has helped! Casting by using the screen as a guide (instead of trying to figure out the radius) has made casting spells in general a lot more logical. Thanks!

    3. The inches refer to the games wargaming roots; they are scale inches, as you'd measure on the battlefield with a ruler. I forget what they convert to in in-world terms, but it is different indoors and outdoors, which is why it suddenly has a larger radius the second you step outside. Now, why it further changes I can't say.

  30. This is a helpful guide. One thing I can comment on is that I've had dispel evil work on elementals. I think it worked on some of the demons in Pool of Darkness as well. But basically if you cast the spell on your cleric and make a successful attack, the enemy gets a save and if they fail, they are instantly destroyed. I also have not really seen any effect with reduce or ray of enfeeblement, I wonder if they do actually do anything. Do you plan on updating this list anytime soon? I'd be interested to see your take on the other spells as well.

    1. I'll update it after Secret of the Silver Blades. My insistence on using all the spells in that game should give me some additional insight for the list. And of course there will be new spells.

    2. Evil summoned creatures aren't destroyed actually, they're just sent back to their home plane.
      If the said outsider comes through a portal unsummoned and is then destroyed it still doesn't actually die but as a side effect it cannot return to material plane for the next 100 years.

      However the above only works on "the material plane" that follows it's own special laws in D&D cosmos.

    3. Sent back to another dimension?

    4. I know, a very late reply, but I meant withiin context of the game. Conan cartoon looks epic, haha.

  31. Whoa, is Flame Strike only a single target spell in old editions? I assumed it had always been an area of effect "cleric fireball" like it has been in recent editions.

    1. Wha? If I recall, Flame Strike is a column of fire bathing a single target from the heavens.

      A Divine AOE Fire spell would be Fire Storm, wouldn't it?

      Anyway, here's a helpful link to find the spells you want.

    2. Flame Strike IS an area of effect spell, albeit with a somewhat small radius. The 1st edition version is a 1" radius by 3" high cylinder (as opposed to Fireball's 2" sphere), while the 3.5e version is 10' by 30' cylinder (as opposed to fireball's 20' sphere.)

      The Secrets of the Silver Blades manual doesn't specifically state that it is single-target in the game, and I don't have a save for the game, so I can't check. Are you absolutely sure it's single target in the game, Addict?

    3. Kenny, your link says "Cylinder (10-ft. radius, 40 ft. high)" for Flame Strike, which is definitely not single-target. If you pack 'em in tight like the Gold Box games do, that could totally be 12 human-sized enemies. :P

    4. I just loaded a saved game, memorized "Flame Strike," and cast it on several creatures. Yes, it only hits one creature at a time. Also, while the description in the journal is vague, the table in the back makes it clear that its area of effect is only 1 square.

    5. @Fry - Sure. Make fun of the rotund guy. "Ooh. You're so fat, you occupy the entire AOE in a Flame Strike spell!"

    6. Your papa's so fat, I fireballed him in a crowded room and he was the only one that took damage?

  32. Minor addition to "Delayed Blast Fireball" is that it is an instant-action spell (like magic missile) rather than a delayed one like "Fireball". That wins points for having a key advantage of the spell ironically being the exact opposite of its description. (I.e., it is better because it is delayed *less*.)

    1. Good point. I added an interpolation.

    2. Maybe the idea is that because it's "Delayed" you pre-cast it and keep it in your pocket until it's needed? :)

    3. Maybe the idea is that because it's "Delayed" you pre-cast it and keep it in your pocket until it's needed? :)

    4. I think one of the main uses of it in D&D was giving your party members a chance to get out the blast radius. "I'm going to cast fireball." "I charge in anyway!" "Dammit'
      "Delayed Blast fireball, set to go off right after the fighter moves"

  33. Although the Secret journal strangely does not include them in its descriptions of spells, the Magic User spells "Protection from Good", "Reduce" and "Bestow Curse" are still available in Secret of the Silver Blades. FWIW, they are listed in the tables on pages 52-53 of the Secret journal.

    1. Thanks for the correction. I must have read the manual instead of actually looking at the spells in-game.

  34. Dimension door does have use outside of fleeing: After lining up your party, and letting enemy melee get "stuck in" the melee, you can jump to the edges of the battle lines to set up a lightning bolt or cone of cold attack down the enemy line without worrying about tagging your own party.

    It's still probably not worth using a whole turn on it, and it will likely be rare that you need it instead of just being able to walk where you need to go, but in some crowded spaces, where fireballs will fry your front line, lightning bolts will bounce back off the walls, and the lines are too tight to squeeze a cone in without rushing to melee, it at least theoretically has its use. (Of course, it has more hypothetical use in a actual pen-and-paper game where the landscape isn't a flat gray field punctuated by stone walls all the time, and you could use it to bypass obstacles...)

    1. It would have been even more useful if you could use it on another party member such as a thief to line them up for a backstab in crowded hallways.

  35. Power Word Stun doesn't allow a saving throw - it just works as long as the target's hp is low enough. All the power word spells are like that, which is why they are so high level.

    Functionally disintegrate and flesh to stone are nearly identical when you cast them - either one is a one-shot win(although I think disintegrate does weak damage if they save). But they take different things to fix so the difference matters if they are cast on you.

    The real issue with the druid spells is that they are balanced around being a low level druid - in 1st edition AD&D a druid would have 3rd level spell by class level 3. So those effects are completely worthy actions for a level 2 party - but not so much for a high level ranger.

    I always felt it was too bad that the later gold box games didn't implement druids. I feel like they could have been in the Savage Frontier games without too much extra fiddling, since their low level spells already existed.

  36. Apart from my recent DoK playthrough it's been a while that I played those games. It's true that many spells are useless in most games, because one can just hit everything with fireballs. But in the higher lvl games many enemies are highly immune against the standard spells like hold person or fireball. This is obvious in Dark Queen of Krynn and Pools of Darkness but already holds for the skeletal warriors and Death Knights in DoK.
    So enlarge, prayer and several protection spells (also invisibility and mind blank) become more useful because they buff and protect your fighters who will just slash away. There are also the Breath weapons of Dragons (and Bane minions in PoD) that will, if they hit, almost kill even high lvl characters right away and it is often better to try power word stun or hold monster on them because they may not be killed by the first delayed blast fireball.
    Cloudkill seems fairly useless but I remember that I used Cone of Cold quite a bit in the high lvl games because more opponents are immune to fire than to cold (e.g. the bits o Moander are hit much harder by cold (and blade barrier, the best offensive priest spell, bc the saving throws of high lvl monsters against Harm are often to good (and the good clerics of Krynn cannot cast Harm anyway)

    Dispel Evil is supposed to work against Undead and demonic things but often it does not work very well. There is a "Mace of disruption" in DoK that "disrupts" (i.e. instantly kills) Undead up to spectres and gives double damage or so against higher lvl Undead. For some reaon there was a bug in my recent playthrough so I got 3 Maces of disruption (and 3 gauntlets of ogre power) which made the last dungeon with Lord Soth comparably easy...

  37. I seem to recall that in one game (probably Curse or Secret) the "Delayed Blast Fireball" did work delayed. After casting one was asked to set some parameter (battle round?) but immediate explosion was also possible. I only remember that I was confused because the spell had worked differently in Death Knights of Krynn and Pools of Darkness.
    (Could it have been implemented differently depending on Amiga/Mac/DOS?)

    1. It had that behavior in Secret of the Silver Blades IIRC, but not in any of the other games.

    2. Yes, that is indeed how it works. When I said that the spell "cast instantly," I mean that there's no preparation time. So you don't have to worry about getting hit with an arrow or something while you're in the middle of casting.

  38. Late to the party, I know, but since you've yet to play some of the Gold Box games, I'd like to add to your spell list:
    Be careful when using "Disintegrate". It kills the target, yes, but it also destroys his equipment. Some of the special magical items you find after battle are tied to specific enemies, so you might miss out on some very valueable loot, if you've disintegrated their former owner.
    I'm not 100% sure, but I think the same applies to "Flesh to stone".

    Last but not least: Thank you for this blog, it makes for wonderful reading! Since I played many of these games as a kid and recently re-played them for my youtube channel, it's interesting to compare my own nostalgic views to your more "sober" analysis.


    1. Thanks for the comments! I'll have to be careful with those spells.

      I need to update this post, perhaps turn it into a "page" rather than a post. I probably will the next time I play a GB game.

  39. Protection from Normal Missiles is useful when facing huge waves of mooks with ranged weapons, as in the Buccaneer's Den or Zhentil Outpost missions of PoR. I once defeated both missions with a party of just two - one 8th-level fighter and one 6th-level mage - by having the magic-user cast PFNM on both of them before the battle. Mage then used his wand of magic missiles to open holes in the enemy ranks for the fighter to enter and sweep 8 guys at once, like a little steel fireball going off every round. ^_^ --turtlekitty

    1. Thanks for the note. When I wrote this, PoR was well behind me, so I'd forgotten many of the individual battles in which certain spells would have helped.

  40. I came across your blog post while Googling the difference between Fire Shield-Hot & Fire Shield-Cold (something I always get mixed up). Based on the information here, I've had my party in COTAB encamp and rejuggle their memorized spells. (Plus I gave you a shoutout in the description box of one of my old COTAB Let's Play videos on YouTube.) A very practical guide to spells in the Gold Box games; thanks for posting this!

    1. I didn't imagine it would be directly useful to a current player. I'm glad to hear it.

  41. Necro Post. I found another computer here thank God. In Dark Queen I noticed that Fire Shields can block damage from spells of an opposite temperature while adding damage to the same. So, for example, if a magic user casts a cold fire shield, no fireball, flame strike or meteor attack will affect him/her. On the other hand, if the magic user is attacked with a cone of cold, he is dead. Any thoughts?

    1. I assume it's not supposed to work that way by D&D rules.

      I guess I could see how it would happen if, say, "heat" was a variable on a scale of -10 (very cold) to +10 (very hot) and the damage done is the difference between the character's resistance and that score. Say the resistance starts at 0 so a regular character who gets hit with a "very hot" fireball takes 10 damage. He casts "Fire Shield" on himself and raises his resistance to +10 so the fireball no longer has any effect, but now the difference between his resistance (+10) and a very cold "Cone of Cold" (-10) is 20.

      Obviously, those aren't the exact numbers, but do you think something like that is at work?

    2. The (hot) fire shield works as follows, (cold) is flipped:

      The flames are hot, and any cold-based attacks will be saved against at +2 on the dice, and either half normal damage or no damage will be sustained; fire-based attacks are normal, but if the magic-user fails to make the required saving throw (if any) against them, he or she will sustain double normal damage. The material component for this variation is a bit of phosphorous.

    3. In "The Dark Queen of Krynn", so called Dark Wizards shrugg off even Delayed Blast fireballs, while being hit with a Cone of cold hit them with a whopping 345 points of damage. Sorry for the spoiler. This led me to try to use the same tactics and they worked quite well.

    4. Okay, so it sounds like it's supposed to be that way. Thanks for the heads up for when I play DQK.

  42. The Pathfinder games, both Kingmaker and it's spinoffs, offer "Metamagic" to spellcasters. It allows a higher level spell caster to custom their spells with more damage, longer effect times, shorter casting times, and so on.

    Pathfinder also changes up the base power of clerics. If your cleric is a positive energy cleric, he or she can either heal living beings or damage undead. Negative energy clerics do reverse. If the cleric has a charisma of 13 or more, he or she can get a feat that allows them to separate the channels. Say you're a cleric of Urgathoa, an evil goddess, and you want to hurt your enemies with a negative energy blast, but not on your own party. Select channel allows this. You custom the effect to benefit or hurt specific targets. No more healing both your own fighters and the enemy, because they are so close. My evil cleric won a crucial fight by repeatedly hitting the surrounding enemy with negative energy, causing mounting damage.


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