Monday, August 17, 2015

Death Knights of Krynn: Good, but Still Second-Best

The big bad makes an appearance.

Pool of Radiance remains my highest-ranked Gold Box game, and that's not because it was the first. My GIMLET system doesn't give points for freshness or originality; it gives points for doing a good job incorporating various RPG elements. Later Gold Box games ranked lower because I thought they did worse than Pool even though they were newer. Mostly, they managed to delete or mess something up that Pool had done reasonably well. None of them, for instance, have offered the same quest system that I loved in the first game. None allowed NPC hirelings after the first. The "attitude"-based encounter system mostly disappeared. The economy, which was bad enough in Pool, got a lot worse in subsequent entries. Open world exploration disappeared until Death Knights. Buck Rogers used the tactical combat system that I loved, but rendered it partly meaningless without the spells. And I never found the back story and main plot as compelling as when a low-level group of adventurers was trying to help restore civilization to a small corner of the Moonsea.

Looking at my ratings sheet, only once has a Gold Box game exceeded the value, in any category, that I originally awarded in Pool of Radiance: the score for "Character Creation and Development" in Champions of Krynn. That's a reflection of Dragonlance's more interesting approach to races and classes.

Does the trend continue in Death Knights of Krynn? A little. There are three ways in which it's not quite as good as the original:

1. Its plot is not quite as compelling as some of the others. The quest to reclaim Phlan from monsters (Pool of Radiance) could be seen as a conflict of civilizations (with associated moral questions about whether the descendants of ancient residents truly have a "right" to land) without getting too deep into D&D's boring "absolute evil" motifs. Curse of the Azure Bonds was about factions and how they allied and clashed. But here we have a main foe (Lord Soth) who wants to take over the world just because he's evil and his god is evil. (If the books offer something deeper, let me know.) This is common enough in RPG-dom, of course, but George R. R. Martin, Steven Erikson, and others have spoiled such simplistic plots for me, and if I can't even imagine a more complex set of machinations beneath the surface, I don't enjoy the game quite as much.

2. It somehow manages to make the economy even worse than its predecessors, where it was already horrible. I've already left hundreds of thousands of steel pieces on the corpses of my enemies. I've found no stores selling magic items, and this game doesn't even make you pay for training the way the previous ones did. I have over 500,000 steel pieces in gems and jewels stashed in the bank in Gargath outpost (the bank, by the way, appears nowhere else), and I bet I'll never have to go back and get any of it. If money is so plentiful that you can buy anything you want from the game's opening moments, you don't have an economy at all.

There is literally no point.
3. It has a more limited selection of monsters. With 39 different creatures, Death Knights would seem to have about as many as Pool of Radiance's 43, but the variety isn't the same. It was fun to figure out the best tactics against the various Draconians in Champions of Krynn, but here the only ones to return are Sivaks. Around 10 of Death Knights' monsters are simply bestial undead that have no special attacks but hit hard and die hard. There are no creatures in this game capable of causing cold damage, disease, paralysis, blindness (save the nightmare's temporary smoke blindness), or stoning, removing the need for a significant percentage of cleric spells.

I'm encountering these crocodile things for the first time. They're very tough.
Death Knights does a few things quite well. It restores the value of open-world exploration from Pool and the side-dungeons from Curse, and of course it has the superior Dragonlance approach to characters from Champions. It takes place right in that Level 7-12 sweet spot where each level-up still makes the character noticeably more powerful, but the characters aren't yet so godlike that they never use half their powers. But while I'm enjoying the game quite a lot--perhaps as much as any Gold Box game since Pool--I'm once again a little irked that the developers didn't try just a little harder and make it just a little better. We don't have that many Gold Box titles left, and it will be depressing if we leave the series without any of them having exceeded the quality of the 1988 original.

When I last posted, Lord Soth the Death Knight was taking over everything, and I had just arrived in the city of Vingaard hoping to consult with the Dream Merchant and figure out what the old knight's sleepstone revealed. In contrast to the other maps so far, the passages of Vingaard were narrow and twisty, and wrapped back on themselves in some non-obvious places, making mapping difficult.

The Dream Merchant's attire looks slightly out of place for this setting.
Eventually, I found the Dream Merchant in his shop and gave him the stone. He sent my characters to sleep to experience the knight's prophetic dream:

You and many heroic Knights are at a celebration, feasting merrily. You see a long-faced man in dark robes who doesn't seem to belong. As you try to accost him, he disappears in the crowd.

Suddenly Sir Karl is there before you. You smile, even though you know he is dead. 'Thom! Give me your sword!" he cries and you do so at once. He jerkily takes it and you notice silver strands attached to his arms and legs. The strands lead up to a monstrous man, whose face covers the sky. He laughs like thunder and pulls Sir Karl to him.

All turns black as you plummet into dark catacombs. You grope in the darkness, tearing through walls of gossamer spiderwebs, until you see a speck of light and head for it. It is a candle held by the long-faced man. There is a string around his wrist, but it has been cut. As you draw near, a door shuts and the candle is blown out. This happens again. On the third try the candle flickers, but stays lit. You step past a red door into a small bare room. The long-faced man transforms into a young Solamnic Knight, who hands you an ornate key the color of blood. "For every key, a prisoner," he warns, then you awake.

"Whaaaaa...," my characters said, but fortunately the Dream Merchant was there to interpret it for me: An evil man is gathering powerful weapons and warriors. My only hope is a man in dark robes who has cut his puppet strings. I can find him by first finding the candle and then by traveling through red doors. ("If you go through a gray door, he will disappear.") He will introduce me to a young knight who holds the key to everything.

A side effect of the experience was that every time I tried to rest afterwards, I woke up screaming. I couldn't heal or memorize any spells. I returned to the Dream Merchant who promised me an elixir to end the nightmares, but I needed to help him first by entering his dreams and killing the dogs that were causing him nightmares. The ubiquitous Dread Wolf seemed to have something to do with it.

I ended up having to fight three battles against hellhounds. They weren't so much difficult as annoying, as they had the tendency to flee as soon as half of their numbers were killed. I had to chase them into the corners of the map for the final kill. Anyway, when it was all over, both our dreams were okay again, and the Dream Merchant took off for an extended vacation.

At first, I thought the candle/door puzzle would apply to a different map, but then I realized it was here in Vingaard. The "candle" referred to the shingle outside the inn. If I started there, there was a sequence of red doors that wound through the city. If I didn't start with the first red door, nothing happened, and if I entered a regular door at any part of the sequence, it was broken. But as long as I followed the sequence of red doors, I got a series of messages...

...culminating in an encounter with a cleric named Sebas Astmoor. When I entered his room, he threatened to kill himself, then wanted me to swear I worshipped good or neutral gods. When he'd calmed down, he told me that he was a former Cleric of Majere who had been corrupted by Lord Soth. Soth had sent him on a quest to find some artifact--he wouldn't tell me what it was--but once he had it in his hands, he "saw Lord Soth's folly and [his] own unworthiness." He hid the artifact and ran away from Soth's service.

He told me to go to the High Clerist's Tower, where "evil is afoot in the tombs." If I could stop it, I'd be worthy of the rest of his secret.

I love how the game suggests speed is of the essence, as if I couldn't wander around literally for years and still find the exact same encounters when I finally decided to act.
The High Clerist's Tower is far on the west side of the map, so I resumed my north/south exploration pattern to get there. Discoveries along the way:

1. A gnome village called Quazle. The place did a good job playing up the eccentricities of gnomes, the various guilds they belong to, and their needlessly complex inventions. They insisted, for instance, that I tour their museum of inventions, where the game warned me, after numerous exhibits, that I ran the risk of literally being bored to death. (I didn't stay long enough to discover if this would really happen.) I had to "flee" to get out of there, and throughout the rest of the map, I kept getting random encounters where some gnome insisted that I go back and finish the tour.

Jan Jansen would be at home here.

It transpired that some gnome named Quax had invented a camera, which would have made the Sage Guild obsolete, so they asked the Engineering Guild to create something that would destroy it. Quax barricaded himself in his workshop and put traps around it, and a minor civil war ensued. As I explored, gnomes kept popping up and shooting things at me, thinking I was the "enemy."

When I finally breached the workshop, it turned out that Quax had been dead for at least a year. Some wizard from Myrtani's old army had killed him and taken over his workshop to have a quiet place to practice magic in, with the ultimate goal of becoming "the most powerful wizard on Krynn!" I put an end to his plans and got some potions and Eyes of Charming. The gnomes didn't acknowledge or notice my victory, so I left.

Has there ever been an evil wizard who didn't refer to his enemies as "fools"?
2. A farming village that had fallen under the corrupting influence of an evil meteorite. Some evil mages had arrived to study it, and an impostor took the place of the town's good wizard. I freed the good wizard, killed the impostor and his allies, and destroyed the meteorite. It was a small 8 x 8 map that took maybe 15 minutes.

My reward from this quest was something called "Olin's Quarterstaff." I parked it with my ranger and didn't think much of it until he favored it over his long sword +4 in quick combat. Every time he strikes someone with it, it has a chance of stunning them for the rest of the round. Very handy, and also very rare for a Gold Box game to include an artifact weapon that isn't found in the usual tables. I assume "Olin" refers to Olin Silverhaft, a Knight of Solamnia who appears in some Dragonlance novels.

3. The city of Cekos. It seemed like a normal city at first, but it soon became clear that the population had been occupied by Sivak Draconians in human form. The Sivaks were chasing rumors of an ancient dragon treasure hidden beneath the town, and a man named Igorf--another treasure-hunter--joined my party.

An encounter with a statue in the city. I was hoping he gave me a Scroll of Protection from Dragon Breath, but it was just a random mage scroll.
The town consisted of about half a dozen battles with Sivaks, and it soon became clear that Igorf was a copper dragon in human form. Midsummer's abilities as a knight allowed me to control him in combat, which I think makes this the earliest traditional RPG where you can control a dragon. (1990's Dragon Lord is responsible for the slight equivocation.) Unfortunately, there's no command that allows me to use his breath attack, but he did have mage spells through Level 4 and a powerful melee attack.

The map culminated in a small area beneath the town, where I suddenly ran into 4 blue dragons--a difficulty none of the previous combats had prepared me for. (I would have faced 5 without Igorf.) The map was oriented in such a way that there was nowhere to hide, and plenty of walls for the dragons' lightning attacks to bounce off and hit multiple characters at once (or the same character multiple times). After a couple of battles that went poorly, I sucked it up and used "Haste." Coupled with "Enlarge" and one use of the exploit by which if you walk up to a dragon and walk away, he swipes at your retreating back and loses his turn for the round, I was able to defeat them.

Although "Stinking Cloud" caused them to cough, it didn't stop them from breathing.
After all that effort, I was hoping for some nice magic items, but what I got was this:

The game seems to be under the illusion that money is an actual "reward."

4. A musty cave. There were about a dozen squares of passage and a dead end. Either I'm missing something, or I have to come here later.

Atmos, Squirrel, and Coral can all level up, but it's a long trek back to a training facility.
That brings us to the High Clerist's Tower. A check of a Dragonlance wiki reveals that the High Clerist is one of the three leaders of the Knights of Solamnia and head of the Order of the Sword. When I offered Sebas's warning, he expressed skepticism but led me to the catacombs to check it out. Sure enough, the place was swarming with undead.

This is a pretty cool illustration.
An NPC knight named Durfey joined my party as we battled through the catacombs. It wasn't a large map, but there were a lot of combats with skeleton warriors, both fixed and random, as well as undead giants pounding away at the tower's foundations.

It soon became clear that Lord Soth's forces were in the catacombs for two reasons: first, to liberate a red dragon that had been imprisoned there in human form; second, to steal as many corpses of dead knights as possible to reanimate as Death Knights. One of the knights they had stolen was the powerful Sturm Majere, another character from the books.

The forces were led by the very-much-alive Sir Garren, who I'd met at Gargath outpost and had become corrupted at some point in between.

The battles were long and draining, and there was no place safe to rest. Although the undead giants could be damaged with magic and even turned, the skeleton warriors were immune as usual, and there were dozens of them before the end. Suddenly, having a party in which 5/6 of the members could cast cleric spells didn't seem excessive.

Fortunately, the end battles weren't very difficult. They started with the red dragon, who chose to attack in melee combat instead of using his breath and died so fast I was embarrassed for him.

Oh, come on! You said we'd "soon be ash." I even bothered to cast "Resist Fire" for this!
When I encountered Garren, the game gave me the option to yank the sword from his hand. Since this isn't a normal option, I reasoned there must be something special about the sword. Indeed, when I succeeded, Garren reverted to his good self and said he didn't remember much after he started investigating the piles of weapons and armor that Sir Karl had tossed into the outpost back on the game's opening screens.

It's too bad we can't see metrics for the various choices in games like this. I want to know what percentage of players choose "Leave" at a time like this.
At the end of the map, we encountered Soth himself. He shot a bolt at Garren, but Dutch jumped in front of it and blocked it, sucking up the 19 damage. Soth then asked if I was willing to "challenge him personally." I said yes and found myself in 6-on-1 combat with him. He had 59 hit points. One of my knights went first and knocked him down to about 35 in two successful attacks. My mage/thief went second; I went around behind him and did 40 damage in backstab, killing him. That was pretty anticlimactic.

I feel bad for the guy. Isn't he supposed to have minions or something?
Naturally, he wasn't really dead. He got up, taunted me some more, and took off. I should have reloaded and fought the battle again. I don't even know what kinds of special attacks he has, and next time I'll be unprepared.

Actually, this encounter helped validate the utility of resistance.
The High Clerist has nothing else for me, so I guess the next step is to return to Vingaard and speak to Sebas again. Durfey didn't leave at the end of the High Clerist's Tower. I don't know how long he'll stick around, but it sure is nice to have another mace against the skeleton warriors.
Miscellaneous notes:

  • In Pool of Radiance, the "Look" and "Search" commands were important. ("Look" is one-time use; "Search" is always on.) They revealed treasures and clues that simply walking through an area didn't, and each map had at least a couple such locations. But you'd encounter more monsters if you walked around with "Search" on all the time, so there was a trade-off. Subsequent games weakened the importance of the command, and in Death Knights, I'm honestly not sure it does anything at all.
  • When you encounter parties of people in the wilds, you don't know if they're good or evil; you just know that they're a party. If you attack, you run the risk of attacking innocent travelers, so most of the time I choose "Talk." About half the time I do that, they're evil and attack; the other half, they offer some rumor or other tidbit of wisdom and I get experience.

If I hadn't already found the shipwreck, this would have been a clue.
  • For some reason, the "ce" is cut off of "experience" in a lot of places in the game. I'd be lying if I said that the run-on sentence didn't bother me a little bit, too.

  • For the first time since Pool of Radiance, I think, many areas of the game actually make use of the day/night cycle. Some stores are only open during the day, and some encounters on maps are specific to day or night. This freaks me out a bit and I wonder how many encounters I might have missed because it was the wrong time of day.

This appears to only happen at night.
  • I hate wilderness combats. I've hated them since Pool of Radiance. The enemies start too far away and take forever to close the gap; trees block you from casting spells and shooting arrows; and the blast radius of spells is reduced.
  • Because I hate wilderness combats so much, I started experimenting a bit with "quick combat," which can be activated for the entire party or just one character at a time. I turned spells off so my characters wouldn't waste them or hit each other with friendly fire. Generally speaking, it's not a good option for this game. The characters don't concentrate attacks and don't try to damage spellcasters first. There aren't a lot of combats in this game that you can just breeze past; every one is a challenge. That's a good thing, but it also feels a bit bizarre when a random combat comes along and just destroys my party. I'm used to random combats being throw-aways.
  • Vingaard has a lot of seemingly-useless shops, selling things like candles, shoes, and blankets. The game lets me buy these things, and takes my money, but nothing shows up in my inventory. I don't know if these purchases have any effect on the party.

Wow, that's a long post. It illustrates how much time I spent playing the game yesterday instead of getting work done like I was supposed to. That's the sign of a good game, though.

Writing these posts actually helps a lot with playing the game. I find that in the heat of exploration, I tend to read journal entries and on-screen text quickly, impatient to move on to the final battle of the area. These postings force me to re-read and reconstruct everything, and it ultimately makes the story stick with me better and makes the game more meaningful. So thanks for that.

Time so far: 12 hours
Reload count: 10


  1. Does Olin's Quarterstaff work against undead? Depends on if it stuns or paralizes, I think. But either way, I never felt that using a twohanded weapon was worth losing the shield in AD&D-games (with the exception of EoB, where you didn't defend that much).

    I also think that the magic items in AD&D-games are quite boring, there is mostly +1 to +5. Artifact weapons on the other hand are totally overpowered with effects like disruption etc.
    In NWN and following, you could get more medium effects like elemental damage, $monsterclass (like undead) bane etc. You had far more choice and also more progress, even though crafting unbalanced that a bit.

    1. "$monsterclass"? What's that? Also, everything is worth it for a 2-handed Holy Avenger +5/+10 wielded by a Paladin.

    2. Just code-lingo.

      He means giantsbane, dragonsbane etc.

    3. It does work against undead. It stuns. All that seems to do is take them out of commission for the round. Other characters can't insta-kill them the way they can if they're paralyzed.

    4. While you're definitely right about early D&D in general, they did have a few 'bane' type weapons--Krynn has the dragonlances, Curse had a dragonslayer, Secret and Pools had a long sword vs giants, and Gateway had the sword of stonecutting.

    5. But all of those examples are unique items. What AD&D misses is some form of enchantments to make generic weapons (or armor) less bland. Baldur's Gate had really a lot of unique items to make up for that, but the goldbox games don't seem to do that.

      Somehow, most D&D-players I know seem to prefer lowmagic-worlds. I often heard "It's stupid when a level 10 hero already has a +5-weapon" and stuff like that - especially in DDO, ranting about the "monty haul campaign" was very common. I personally think it was just right. My characters usually had about 20 weapons with them.

      Choosing the right equipment for every fight was part of the fun - it required strategy and knowledge. The game wasn't so hard that it was required, but it was rewarding since you could swap quickly and it helped a lot.

    6. What you describe in the last paragraph is something that I don't do enough. If my fighter has a +2 mace and finds a +3 long sword, I typically drop or sell the mace. I ought to keep it for skeletons.

      I've been doing a better job in this game than usual.

  2. Did you rescue the daughter for the old woman in Cekos? she offers a magical weapon and some treasure for helping.

    Also there should be a magical shop in Cekos, which offers a few magical items, after the town is freed.

    1. I must have missed that one. I knew I was being careless by not mapping.

      I'll return to Cekos and see if I can find that shop.

    2. Okay, the "magic shop" consists entirely of Arrows +2 and Darts of the Hornets Nest. If the latter stacked, it would be a really good money sink. I guess based on Nathan's comment below, I'll buy a bunch of the arrows.

    3. Slight spoilers below...
      A nice bundle of Darts of Hornets Nest would be a worthwhile investestment, because...
      ...they are the the ultimate weapon against the most annoying enemy in Dark Queen.

      BTW, surprised by no Victory! posting yet, since DKK is a rather short CRPG.

    4. Maybe he found dave's challenge :)

  3. It seems like the Gold Box games are the first RPG series afflicted by hyperinflation...

    1. Does knights still tithe money when they enter Solamnic keeps etc. like they did in COK. Though I never knew did it matter anywhere...

      Still... Wouldn't it be nice touch that if you tithe hundreds of thousand hard fought cash and in end demo master of your knightly order congratulates you in golden, gem-studded armor.

      Money well spent...

    2. I had forgotten about that from CoK. No, that doesn't happen here.

    3. There are no "menu cities" in DKK the way there were in CoK. In CoK, that only happened in menu cities.

  4. Quick combat in DKK is also annoying in that the AI always defaults to the best THACO weapon combo. If your thief has a staff sling +3, and a long sword +2, we will be swinging rocks every round. Gets annoying to reequip shields and maces to fight skeletons.

    Minor spoiler ahead
    There is a useful money sink in the game, just not for this game. There is a magic shop that sells +2 arrows, which are priceless in the sequel, honestly, 1 million steel worth of arrows would not be overkill.

  5. Each of the Gold Box games has their own personality. I try not to compare them. Death Knights has its own mood, conveyed by the colors, music, and the ubiquitous presence of undead. I agree that the plot is rather simple, but then again, I find the Dragonlance entries in this series to be weaker overall in this category. I will say one other thing about this game. Due to the skeleton warriors, undead beasts and death knights, it does provide the most consistent challenge to a party. This game, and the Dragonlance games in general, seem more like a war, rather than adventure.

    1. Interesting. How would you describe the personality of the others?

    2. Hey Addict: if you have a kender thief, give him/her the hoopak. You can then backstab the skel warriors with a blunt weapon. ;)

    3. My kender has the hoopak. I thought that hoopaks were like staff-slings but with pointed ends so that the backstab was more like a spear.

    4. The game's not specific with that part since the damage does not correspond to a spear's damage. That, and you technically can't backstab with a spear, right?

      Also, the pointed end is functionally used as an anchor for the kender to stab into the ground to convert it into a catapult-artillery, if I recall.

  6. From what I can recall of the Lord Soth of the books, he has some half-assed backstory about trust issues with his wife and trying to redeem himself but being tempted away by a disguised goddess of evil pushing his buttons and exploiting said trust issues, and this ended up with him getting killed in his own burning castle and coming back as an angry death knight. In the books, so far as I can recall, he never has any particular loyalties, just a general loathing for humanity and himself which makes his realm pretty low on tourist destinations and I think does occasionally result in him being infuriated by something or other and going on a small rampage in a neighboring country, but for the most part he keeps to himself. He's also pretty decisively a third party. While definitely a bit of a dick, he's a dick without any particular loyalty to the black hat team.

    Generally speaking, however, Dragonlance is the worst of the worst when it comes to D&D's black-and-white morality.

    1. Story of Soth was that he could had stopped the cataclysm (by killing the king priest ? dunno) before the king priest could deliver his little 'fuck you and you too!' -speech to gods.

      Instead he met 3 super hot elf ladies and decided to spend his last time on earth fornicating while the meteor thrown by the gods hurtled down to Krynn and brought down the cataclysm.
      Paladine was not amused and cursed Soth and his 3 hotties to stick around forever, dunno if a nagging wife was part of the picture to make it perfect.

    2. I do remember that thing about his wife. Not naggy but still hot and, probably, promiscuous. Which made Soth wanted to take revenge by being unfaithful himself X 3.

      Anyway, I prefer it when Soth enters the Ravenloft Universe to duke it out against Strahd - Death Knight versus Vampire; Heroes Of Might & Magic style.

      Other theocratic fiefdoms would be probably chortling with glee as the undead thin themselves out in a bid to fulfill Takhisis' Law.

    3. Soth was suitably inscrutable and powerful in the books that he made a good villain. According to my teenage memories at least.

    4. IIRC, Soth's wife was a priestess who had a vision of the cataclysm. As a result, she convinced Soth to go on a quest to prevent it, both of them knowing that her vision also showed Soth dying at the end of the quest.

      On the way, Soth met the three elven women who convinced him that his wife was lying and just wanted him killed off. She wasn't actually promiscuous, but Soth's mistrust caused him to turn around. He made it back home right when the cataclysm happened, and his wife cursed him into being the lovable, cuddable death knight that we all know.

      I'm sure there was more, but that was the general idea. I was a big fan of the Dragonlance books as a kid. Martin, Abercrombie, Erikson style everything-is-grey morality tales probably would have made my head explode at that age.

    5. Please don't put Erikson and Abercrombie in the same boat as that copycat with little skill Martin. :( Thanks!

    6. To each their own. I personally found Abercrombie's First Law series to be way too depressing.

    7. Soth is an interesting enough character in the books, and there's a reason he's become an icon of early D&D. He essentially represents the flip side of chivalrous knightly ideals.

      The Dragonlance books had a theme going, particularly in some of the later ones, that an excess of Good is just as bad as an excess of Evil in the world's neverending cosmic war. A civilization that was too just, too devoted to punishing evil, for instance, would eventually start broadening the definition of 'evil' until there was very little left that was acceptable; thus why the Gods of the setting caused a civilization reset a few hundred years before the stories start.

      Lord Soth wasn't just a Knight of the Solamnic order, he was the best. He was a walking legend, hero, the one that everyone looked up to as the knightly ideal. He was considered superhuman. However, he turned out to have human frailties just like everyone else, specifically pride that he could do no wrong, and lust for elf girls. He fell in love with an elf maiden, cheated on his wife with her, then murdered his wife and newborn kid when the kid came out looking deformed, because he thought his wife was cheating on him with demons. Cue a paranoia spiral that causes him to be a disgraced shell of a man.

      There's just enough left of Soth, the Hero after all this that he recognized just how badly he'd messed up, and he prayed to the Gods of the setting to give him a chance to redeem himself. The Gods reveal that they're about to drop a meteor on the aforementioned Good-aligned civilization gone ultratyranny, but if he completes a quest to redeem the leader and cause him to realize just what he's done, they will spare the world their wrath.

      Soth refuses to do it. The world's great hero fails to save it, because his paranoia is still so great that he's more interested in punishing his elf mistress for her nonexistent infidelity while he's away questing. Soth, the Hero is now iredeemable, and instead of dying in the cataclysm he rises as a cursed Death Knight, suffering for eternity, while the ghosts of elf maidens wail wherever he goes and remind him of what he's done.

      Half-assed indeed, Maldeus. He's right, though, Soth doesn't particularly have any loyalty to the forces of Evil, he's essentially just out to cause destruction and misery because he's so miserable himself.

    8. None of those backstories for Soth are quite right. Here's the accurate one.

      Soth was a Knight of Solomnia who fell for an elven woman despite already being married. He took her home and, after his wife disappeared under mysterious circumstances, married her.

      After some time had passed, and Soth's reputation had suffered great damage because of this, he received a vision from the gods that gave him the chance to stop the Kingspriest of Istar from the planned blasphemy, which would atone for his dishonor but cost him his life.

      He set out immediately, but encountered several elven women, allies of the Kingspriest that somehow knew that Soth was opposing the Kingspriest (but not of his divine mandate) and filled his head with stories of his new wife betraying him in love and bewitching him with magic. Believing them, he returned home and killed her. When the cataclysm hit, the gods turned him into a Death Knight for his many crimes and bound the souls of the elf women to his servitude as a punishment for their deception.

    9. Thank you all for contributing to the Soth Rashomon.

    10. I have to admit that I got a good laugh out of that comment.

    11. There's only one version and we all know it. We're just screwing around with you, Chet.

    12. So just the facts: he had a wife; he went on a quest to prevent the cataclysm, but turned back before finishing; there were some elf maidens; cataclysm happened; and now here's cursed to live in undeath forever.

    13. This is all reminding me of the Alligator River parable. "Who acted most reprehensibly in this story? a) Soth; b) Soth's wife: c) The elf maidens; d) the Kingpirest. Discuss and justify your position."

    14. Out of those options Kingpriest is on completely different league. Whereas Soth and the Company re-enacted Macbeth to some degree affecting those in close vicinity, Kingpriest caused local variation of Atlantis and loss of clerical magic for some hundred years.

    15. @Bladed Edge: If you think the story you're describing is anything else but half-assed, you don't know enough about Greek tragedy to understand that this is a paint-by-numbers example of the genre. "Great hero brought low by tragic flaw" is not some groundbreaking shortcut to grand literature, it's one of the oldest storytelling models in recorded history, and Soth's particular version of it is not particularly compelling - the only character with any kind of personality in it is Soth himself, who is a two-dimensional cardboard cutout whose fall from grace is arbitrary. He doesn't have any kind of sympathetic reason for being paranoid and vengeful about women, he just *is*. Which is pretty damning for the protagonist of a Greek tragedy.

      @Dariel: While the Kingpriest, as a tyrant whose reign of terror affected millions, is probably the worst of the four presented, the proximate cause of the Atlantis nuking is the gods, who for some reason decided the best use of their nearly-limitless power was to indiscriminately slaughter most of those oppressed millions and plunge the survivors into a barbaric dark age/warring states period. Could've just vaporized the one tyrant, assholes.

    16. @Maldeus: Precisely. F-ing gods. Flooding the world, burning down 2 cities just because they're gay, offing every firstborn in one of the largest civilizations in its time, turning all potable water into bloo- wait. Uh... wow. I think I just saw some parallels there...

  7. The fight versus Soth is really funny, considered that, in one of the novels, (SPOILER)
    it kills on the spot one very high level character with a Finger of Death spell...

    1. It was a Power Word spell, but same result.

    2. Yes and no...Power Word Kill doesn't have a saving throw, but doesn't work if you have over 60 hp.

    3. And, according to the Twins Trilogy, it would have totally worked on Tanis the Half-assed Half-Elven had he not obtained some form of protection.

  8. Hmm, what can we conclude from this game for the whole gaming industry? I mean, Pool of Radiance was 3 years old in 1991, and for some reason, the successors never managed to outdo it. Didn't they look at their previous games and noticed what worked and what did not? Today, we would probably classify all post-Pool of Radiance Gold Box games as mods to the original game. Same engine, same technological level, almost the same mechanics. It's like Fallout: New Vegas was not a successor to Fallout 3, but more a spin-off.
    Also, you already battled the big boss and won easily? Ok, that's a common trope, but also a bit lame. I mean, he doesn't even arise in a more dangerous, more evil form, or something like that. He just stands up again and goes away. A bit anticlimactic.

    1. I think it was to potraying heroes giving their best shot but achieve nothing and Soth just soaking up it all.

      Kinda reminds Alucard's MO in Hellsing manga / anime.

    2. Pool of Radiance was special in that it was designed by "real" designers from TSR, while the rest (except the Savage Frontier games which were made by Stormfront) were made by SSI's own designers.

    3. There was an 'Azure Bonds' module too. Not sure which came first.

      I think the thing about Pool was it was their attempt to really simulate a game of D&D on the computer. Thus the 'haughty/sly/nice/meek/abusive' bit to reflect the monsters' personalities and the encounter tables in the DMG, the bit with the well shoehorned in to give thieves something to do, the random treasures as items you had to sell (remember the electrum decanter and the incense?), the Manual of Bodily Health (resting for 30 days? only because it was in the real game), the moral agnosticism (you can attack the town guards and get some nice items), and the fact you can talk to the monsters half the time.

      After that they became much more standard video games.

    4. Canonically, Fallout: New Vegas is more a sequel to Fallout 2 and Fallout 3 is the spinoff in an alternate universe where goddamn Super Mutants are still everywhere.

  9. I found out about two very old school CRPGs from 1981 that were made for the CP/M operating system (CP/M was the precursor to MS-DOS that originated in the 1970s).

    You can read about Orbquest and Nemesis here:

    You can download Nemesis from this website (includes PDF of the documentation and files to play the game):

    Yesterday, I spent the better part of the day transferring the Nemesis game files to Commodore format so I could play them on the Commodore 128's 80 column CP/M mode. Based on the description of races and classes (such as Uruk-Hai, Demondim, Valkyrie, etc), I'd say that it's a single character version of the PLATO edition of Oubliette with a Rogue-like dungeon shown on the screen.

    Anyway, if you want a copy of the disk images I created yesterday and how to play it on a Commodore 128 emulator, please do send me a PM.

    1. According to the documentation, Nemesis sold 2000 copies in it's first year.

      I found a better version of the PDF documentation just now over here:

    2. And here is the PDF for Orbquest:

    3. I'm not sure how Soth got to desiring world conquest for this game. In the original six books, what he really wanted was for two specific women to die in such a way that he could take them as his undead love slaves. Fighting in the Dark Queen's army was just a means to an end.

      It's pretty funny how your party just casually kicks his ass. Some RPGs I've played have had fights that are unwinnable, or nearly so, with the expectation that the player will lose, but that loss is part of the story and doesn't result in game over. Those kind of fights can be frustrating, but something like that here would have done a better job of impressing on you Soth's power instead of making him look like a wuss.

      Oh, and the Sturm that's getting reanimated is Sturm Brightblade.

    4. Didn't Caramon had a son who was named Sturm, though the man in the crypt is definitely Brightblade.

    5. Very interesting. I'll definitely contact you. I hope we can get them running (and perhaps ultimately play Orbquest).

    6. Ack! Didn't mean to put that comment in this thread, sorry.

    7. Have you guys heard of a great console RPG called Shin Megami Tensei?

    8. Whoa, GREAT find there!
      I would have never thought that there would be any interesting stuff for the CP/M mode of the C128 outside of Wordstar, dBase & Co...:)

  10. Hooray, I am no longer a robot. I can say that each game has its own feel. Pool of Radiance seems like a war as you are trying to counter the Boss, while building up Phlan. All missions involve hurting the boss or helping Phlan. Curse of the Azure bonds was more a revenge story, like something out of Hong Kong cinema. Secret of the Silver Blades is closer to a traditional adventure story with the largest dungeon in all of Gold Boxdom.

  11. Sorry the above comment is out of order. I was replying to Null Null.

  12. I red many Dragonlance books, Its my the most favourite fantasy books after Lord of the Rings. When I had played Dragonlance Gold Box games, it was like "I, am at home there":-) I like Dragonlance more than Forgotten Realms. In the books, also in the games. I like three moons, they have influence on the magic (numbers of memorized spells). I like the story, Death Knights has better story than Pool of Radiance which was only about a quest, yes, there was also some deeper story later in the game, but...It´s only my opinion. BTW Soth is more interesting then he looks in the game.

    1. I don't know about interesting but he's definitely a lot more identifiable to most of us. The only difference being that he had the guts to do both good and immoral deeds.

      Even in death, he held no regrets and in his undeath, he still rides as a champion of his own ideals. Had he really been an instrument of the Dark Queen, the Order Of The Black Lily would have been founded by him. But I guess his faith in the gods died along with him during the Cataclysm.

    2. A champion of his ideals of wife-murdering, paranoid jealousy, and caring about no one but himself?

      The man watched his baby son _burn to death_ without lifting a finger to save him.

      I like Soth because he's a complete, irredeemable asshole to the point that I assumed absolutely no one would ever sympathise with him, which makes him a fun character. Hearing him described as 'identifiable' and 'having guts' makes me uneasy!

    3. Interesting is, that he is evil, cursed, but he is still Knight in some ways. Evil Kight, but he knows what he did wrong in his life.

    4. @Whiner - Uh... I guess I'm speaking for myself here then... er... Am I gonna be placed in some kinda watch list?


    Gold Box games are on GOG!

    1. Fantastic! Includes the 4-game Forgotten Realms series, the 2-game Savage Frontier series and the make-your-own-game Unlimited Adventures!

    2. Uhh... includes 3 codewheels. Damn. How they work in digital form?

    3. Odd, I thought only pools of radiance and curse of the azure bonds had a codewheel, I still have mine within reach :). What is the third one for?

    4. The third codewheel is for Hillsfar, which is included with the other games. It's not a Gold Box game, but it does allow importing of characters from Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds.

    5. I was excited to see these. I've been in the mood to relive some old favorites, but never liked going to abandonware sites. I was just about to anyway, when this announcement came out. Happy to buy them instead. Though I've had to reload three times and I've only won maybe three fights. Once I died by stumbling into a bar and getting into a fight while trying to find an equipment store. Bard's Tale gets a bad rap for being tough on beginners, but in my experience this is just as brutal. (Or would be, if not for being slightly easier to save/reload.)

  14. Okay, really I don't understand all the complaints about gold box economy. Have you ever played D&D? There's really not that much to spend gold on. i hardly ever spend gold. I wouldn't even pick it up if any DM used the encumbrance system, but either they don't, or they just give me a bag of holding. The one and only reason to collect gold is to say you have more of it than your fellow players.

    1. First, the Addict doesn't care about how the economy works in the source material - he wants a CRPG with a worthwhile economy, no ifs ands or buts.

      Second, if you can't find anything to do with your money in tabletop 2e D&D, you have a lazy DM; and in any later edition not having anything to spend money on is breaking the basic assumptions of the game.

    2. I am honestly ok with a no-economy game (Dungeon Master variants come to mind) but Gold Box rather represents a broken economy, where you have to deal with ignoring loads of money that you never will use; both mimesis and satisfaction are broken.

    3. I don't know about the campaigns you play, UncertaintyLich, but the ones I ran have plenty of stuff you need to spend on. For instance:

      1) Clothing- Underwear, tunics, pants, dresses and stuff.
      2) Survival- Food, drinks and environmental protection.
      3) Transportation- Coach, wagon, steed and whatnot.
      4) Shelter- Inns, tents, bedrolls, blankets, torches & camping gear.

      For a higher level of tedious realism;
      1) Maintenance- Sewing kit, smithy tools & materials for repair.
      2) Sanitation- Soapstones, brushes (for human and steed), clothing iron & cleansing agents.
      3) Accommodations- Houses, keeps, castles & whatever.
      4) Upkeep- Animal feed, hireling wages, furniture & appliances.

      And when you've reached a social status that handles macro-management...
      1) Army- Hiring troops cost shit loads.
      2) Deployment- Sending them out of their origins will already cost you another shit load.
      3) Logistics- Having them get to their destination is one more shit load.
      4) Armaments- This is the greatest mother shit load, from normal to +5 weaponry and armor.

      I haven't even got to the part where asking for special favors or attending special events will get even the richest D&D merchant-kings broke.

      So, don't get everyone started on justifying crap economies.

    4. I can't speak to tabletop D&D, but Gnoman gave what would have been my answer. Getting rewarded with gold--and then having something useful to buy with it--is one of the things I enjoy about CRPGs. Hence, I complain when the system is broken.

    5. My players always find uses for money. We had a player roll maxed out wealth in Call of Cthulhu once, and he wound up chartering a zeplin to talk to Louis Armstrong then holding a theree day street party in New Orleans (oddly enough, both plot-relevant. Funding his run for mayor of the city was less so)

  15. Regarding using Igorf's Dragon breath ability (if he has one):
    If you put him into quick combat mode, he might use the dragon breath ability. Maybe you additionally have to turn on magic for quick combat.

    1. Sure, that would probably work, but then I wouldn't be controlling him. I wanted to both control him AND breathe....whatever copper dragons breathe.

    2. A workaround for this would be to interrupt quick combat again when he has his next turn. If you have the correct timing it should work.

    3. Copper dragons can breathe either acid or a cloud of gas that acts like a Slow spell IIRC.

  16. The Sahuagin made for a good stock 'evil empire' for adventures near/on/under the sea.

    I never really felt the Kuo-toa though. Fat frogs with a strange set of properties - they can hold hands to make a lightning bolt? They're lead by fat frog monks? Nup.

    1. The aquarian adventures in Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance are laughable. They're usually so weak that I had to mix in a little Lovecraftian mythos to make them a tad more terrible.

    2. Are you referring to specific modules?

  17. Chet, in addition to the staff, did you find the Mace of Disruption. A successful hit automatically kills undead. I forgot where I found it, but I remember having my cleric switch in and out with it depending on the monsters we faced.

    1. I found the Mace of Disruption, but it was very late in the game (I forget exactly where), and I don't think I identified it until after the main game was over. I just assumed it was another Mace+4 or something.

  18. When I re-played it a few weeks ago after many years, I was slightly disappointed. It's not bad but the main plotline is too straight and too short (just follow Sebas missions and then try to save him) and the side quests seem random and hardly connected at all to the main plot and the undead menace. The Kua-Toa ship is an interesting idea (and can be very tough if unprepared or too early) but it hasn't got anything to do with Lord Soth, Draconians, whatever, just random stuff. Same for that dwarf village etc.
    And even in the main quest the eponymous Death Knights appear almost only in the last dungeon.
    I recall that when I played it first with my brother in 92 or so, I found the section with the dream merchant quite evocative but this is fairly short.

  19. I really liked Dragonlance as a kid, but I think that had more to do with the books my library had. My Dad had Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and then the library had some of the short story collections. So I got lots of fun little tales of dwarves trying to forge kingswords and such. I encountered more good stories in Dragon magazine, including the Kang stories.

    I later liked it less as Rastlin became more central, the original cast died or aged into retirement, and they did stupid things with heart magic.

    I find most D&D stories better when they are on a small scale. Heck, most stories in general. I'd rather read The Hobbit about some dwarves trying to get their kingdom back then LotR about the fate of the world. Or Conan trying to make a back, etc, etc.
    I think games are the same way. Pool was about the citizens of one city. Each other game has tried to be more epic and thus are harder to connect to and feel different.

  20. Ok, I know this is years after the fact. But, I just had to say something. Your statement that Death Knights had an overall humdrum feel to it tells me that you clearly missed something.

    Comparing Pool Of Radiance to Death Knights. Sure, DK doesn't have Pool's quest system or parley system (nice haughty sly meek etc). But DK has something that Pools did not. A well written story element like DK's story of Sir Karl and Maya. The tragic ending of Sir Karl and Maya (a story that started in the first game, Champions) is writing that's almost worthy of the novels. That is why some people say that Death Knights is closer to a true Dragonlance experience than the other 2 games in the series. Think about it. The Gold Box engine is not built for storytelling. It has that small box for text, plus journal entries. So they have to stuff any story writing into condensed form. Yet, how can you not feel at least a little something as you watch the streaks of silver and gold ascend into the sky (symbolizing their souls going to be with the god Paladine).

    The fact that this was completely missed by you (or you just were unconcerned) tells me that you've possibly played so many CRPGs that you've possibly become too jaded to appreciate a modestly well-told story element (done in the best way they could manage) using a game engine originally made in 1987-88.

    In Death Knights most areas are an experience (or experien as the game calls it). The experience of a bustling bazaar of Kalaman. The strange, magical, twisty road of Vingaard. The hidden dragons of Cekos. For that matter, Cekos was just something they made up for the game (not in a novel or the like), yet it still even has a little background story behind it.

    In Pools Of Radiance most areas have a name, but little story or lore, no real "experience" and are just an area to clear out. Thanks. Here's your pay. Next.

    And, if we're to admit the truth, there's a reason they dropped the parley system from Radiance in subsequent gold box games. Once you've done the "Nice, Haughty, Sly, Meek" thing a couple of times you're pretty much done with it, and you're just wanting to get on to the fight, because you know you're going to. Especially if characters are close to level up. Talking doesn't get you XP like combat does (parley doesn't yield any XP if I'm remembering right).

    Also, if we were to admit it. The quest system from Pools Of Radiance was a bit stale. In Death Knights it's a little more elaborate. Why is Sir Karl undead? Where did he take the Dragonlance? What's up with the sleepstone? Granted it's not mind blowing. But, it's still more than just "The slums need to be cleared out. Come see me when you're done. Thanks."

    Despite what I have said here. I still have to agree that Pools Of Radiance is still the better game. But, not by a huge margin. Death Knights is more than just "hundrum" if you actually care about dragonlance anything. But, Radiance is just too good with that "go adventure, fight baddies, find goodies and level up" kind of thing. It's a hard thing to describe. But, few games really have it like POR does.

    And, if we're to admit it, Lord Soth is not represented well in Death Knights of Krynn. I mean it's nice to even just have Lord Soth in a game. But, his personality in the game is not like the Soth from the novels much at all.


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