Thursday, September 29, 2016

Guest Post: Why the Economy Sucks in the SSI Gold Box Games (Part 2)

The second of two parts dealing with my most frequent complaint among the Gold Box titles.


Why the Economy Sucks in the SSI Gold Box Games
Part 2: No Money Sinks and a Real-Life "Monty Haul"
by OldWowBastard

In the first part of this article, we considered the frequent claim that SSI was forced, either by contractual obligation or personal preference, to adapt AD&D first edition rules literally. We saw that SSI, in fact, made numerous changes to AD&D rules in other aspects of gameplay. Here, we look at decisions made to the economy specifically that resulted in a hopelessly broken aspect of gameplay.

My Pools of Darkness party has specifically not been picking up any money the entire game, and they still have all of this.

1.9. Changes to training rules and costs

Training costs in the Gold Box games are massively reduced from the arguably broken rules presented as written in the AD&D 1st edition DMG. As written, training cost is based on a per-week, per-character level fee. This is the formula:

-1500 gp X current character level X number of weeks trained = Training cost.

Number of weeks required is based on a stat invented just for this purpose; the “how well did this player play their class” stat. As written, the DM is instructed to assign a value of 1-4 to a character every time XP is assigned, 1 meaning they played their class perfectly, 4 meaning they did not.

When a character has enough XP to level, they are supposed to average that score out to find the number of weeks required to train; so in a perfect world this would be a minimum of one week, but would generally average more than one.

Please note the costs derived from said formula do not reflect the costs charged by the entity training the character. These are material costs associated with training; the rules clearly state that. So in an imperfect world, these fees would be larger than written, as you have to pay for your trainer’s time.

Now, as written, these rules are fairly interesting. I’m assuming this is unintentional and more due to an improperly thought-out system than any intentional design. In their true form, it is incredibly expensive to train at lower levels--to the point that in many cases you would never have enough gold to pay for training, despite having enough XP.

This table offers a breakdown of the XP required to train as a thief, along with the gold cost if you’ve played optimally and only need to train for a single week. You see the gap between what the thief would have on hand versus what they’d need to spend, in the last column.
Current Level
Total XP earned
XP to next level
GP to Train Current
Spent on Training
XP/Gold Gap

A 1st level thief needs 250 more gold than XP to train to second level under optimal conditions. A starting Thief needs to earn 2500 xp total to get up to third level, but would need to have earned a total of 4500gp to train to that point.

Since a character earns 1 xp, per gp earned, a level 1 thief that could afford to train level 2 would have 20% more XP than needed to gain that level. A Thief with just enough XP to level could not afford to pay for training, even if every point of XP they obtained was via gold acquisition, as opposed to any coming from actually killing a monster.

These rules, as written, would completely solve the “broken” economy, albeit in the wrong direction.

Clerics and thieves, who have lower xp requirements to level, would often need the monetary assistance of characters with higher XP requirements, to afford leveling. This would peak around level 5, and go away by level 7 or so. Characters with higher XP requirements would, at best, be able to train when they earned the xp to, but would literally spend every piece of gold they had doing so.

You would essentially end up burning all of your party’s gold just on training, up until level 7 or so. In many cases, you’d have to make the choice of which character to level across an entire party, and would likely often have characters with enough xp to level, but not enough gold to train them.

This all assumes the bare minimum training costs, and optimal PC play. If your training modifier ever goes above 1, the whole system breaks even more as your “break even” point of cumulative training cost vs xp required moves substantially. Even a 1.5 multiplier drastically exacerbates the gaps above; a Thief that has a 1.5 multiplier to train levels 2 and 3 would have spent 6750 total, which brings our xp/gold gap from 2000 to 4750. Since a multiplier can go as high as 4, it’s pretty obvious this system was never “mathed out” for balance purposes.

As the Gold Box changed this to a flat 1000gp fee, this potential money pit was avoided. This is a bit unfortunate, as the mechanic could have been adjusted slightly (e.g. make the base 1000gp X current level instead of 1500 X current level x number of weeks/player rating) to make training a legitimate way to force the player to spend money.

And Pools of Darkness makes it worse by not charging for training at all.
2.0. Overall distribution of treasure

As mentioned briefly in the first part, the AD&D 1st edition rules were heavily derived from OD&D and its supplements, Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes, and Eldritch Wizardry. Tables utilized in those sources were really a "ol' college try" kind of setup. They were minimally play-tested before being codified. They were not heavily reviewed prior to publication.

Gygax clearly grew to feel said tables were overgenerous if applied verbatim. 

2.1. Monetary distribution

In the AD&D 1E Dungeon Masters Guide, Gygax details his thoughts on the matter in the sections "Placement of Monetary Treasure" and "Placement of Magic Items" on Pages 91-93. First, he establishes that the treasure values corresponding with those tables is not applicable in general situations:

All monsters would not and should not possess treasure! The TREASURE TYPES gives in the MONSTER MANUAL are optimums and are meant to consider the maximum number of creatures guarding them. Many of the monsters shown as possessing some form of wealth are quite unlikely to have any at all. This is not a contradiction of the rules but an admonition to the DM to not give away too much!

He instructs the DM to convert the bulk of monetary treasure into valuable goods instead, except in those rare cases where hard currency would be the most appropriate. Here he gives an example of what a 2,000 g.p. ogre cache would look like:

There are many copper and silver coins in a large, locked iron chest. There are pewter vessels worth a fair number of silver pieces. An inlaid wooden coffer, worth 100 gold pieces alone, holds a finely wrought silver necklace worth an incredible 350 gold pieces! Food and other provisions…

This continues for several more sentences which are omitted for the sake of brevity. Suffice it to say, a 2000 g.p. ogre hoard was never supposed to consist of raw cash. It was, at least in the example above, supposed to take substantial effort to transport and liquidate, before being converted into gold and XP.
You can see a few examples of this in Pool of Radiance, in the Kovel Mansion area, and in a few other sections, where the PCs end up with tapestries, statues, and other valuables, instead of raw cash. It was really only briefly touched on in the games, and instead treasure was almost always gold, platinum, gems or jewelry. It should be noted that this occurs rarely enough to cause player confusion. An average player would not know said items were there just to sell and might have held onto them, thinking they were some kind of quest items.

Some of the loot from the kobold king in Pool of Radiance. By this time in the game, there's no point in hauling all of these valuables back to the city for sale.
Regardless, following those guidelines it would be nearly impossible for a party of PCs to acquire massive piles of wealth, without substantial logistical effort.

2.1.2. Magic item distribution

In the aforementioned “Placement of Magic Items” section, Gary gives the DM a very severe set of warnings against providing too much magical treasure: “…the placement of magic items is a serious matter. Thoughtless placement of powerful magic items has been the ruination of many a campaign.”

This is a point that could benefit from expanded discussion, but essentially the sense I get, after researching this heavily, is that Gygax knew how unbalanced games became when excessive treasure was provided.

Rob Kuntz, an extremely early and influential play-tester who played the character Robilar, was co-DM on Greyhawk and probably DM'd for Gary more than anyone else. Per his statements to me on the Dragonsfoot Forums, he would explore Gary's Greyhawk dungeon with Elven Boots and a Ring of Invisibility on. This essentially made him immune to any combats he chose not to fight as he was able to move invisible and silently at all times. “I avoided more encounters than I attacked.”
At the end of this Gold Box battle, every slain Fire Knife has a set of magic items. If I bothered to pick them all up and sell them, the loot from this one battle would probably be enough to get through the entire game.
It is my honest belief, after reading about Rob's play style, that a lot of rules in the AD&D DMG were written as a reaction to Rob, and others in Gary’s campaign, breaking the game in this manner.

His discussion on treasure seems to be one of those situations. He boils it down to "don't give them the stuff as written because they'll become TOO rich and powerful and then the game stops being fun to referee."

Gary’s specific guidance on the matter, when discussing magic items towards the onset of a campaign, is as follows: “You never allow more than a single item or grouping (such as 3 magic arrows) to a treasure, nor more treasures with magic items than 1 in 5 to 1 in 10, as this is an initial adventure setting.”

Gateway to the Savage Frontier, for example, gives the party 3 magic items in the first scripted encounter that provides magic items. This is maybe the 5th required encounter in the game, but can be the 2nd or 3rd with proper play or prior knowledge. Not quite in line with the suggestions, clearly.

2.2. Unguarded treasures that do not correspond with the rules

There are tables present in the AD&D 1st Edition DMG that one can roll on to determine the amount, quality and contents of unguarded treasure that has been placed in a dungeon. These tables are modified by dungeon level, as in the original AD&D rules dungeon level was used in a lot of cases as a power indicator. In theory, a DM was supposed to have creatures of levels 1-2 on the first level of a dungeon, 2-4 on the second, and so on.

Unguarded treasures generated by these tables would be larger in lower dungeon levels due to the additional risk required to venture into said areas. A third dungeon level would have a very high risk ratio for level 2 characters, but would, in theory, have rewards commensurate with said risks.

In the SSI Gold Box games, the unguarded treasures, especially in cases where said unguarded treasure is clearly not the "hoard" of a creature you killed nearby, are drastically larger and more valuable than they should be based on their approximate “dungeon level”.

Even in cases where one could argue that the layout of these games demand an overlap of dungeon level/areas you explore there are problems.

Per the table on the 1E DMG p 171, an unguarded treasure would have either 1000 cp/level, 1000 sp/level, 750 ep/level, 250 gp/level, 100 pp/level, 1-4 gems/level, 1 piece of jewelry/level, or a single magic item or grouping of magic items.

In Pool of Radiance, for example, there is a very large, hidden, unguarded treasure in the far northwest corner of the slum area. That slum area is the first area you adventure in and is arguably equivalent to the “first” level of a dungeon. That treasure contains money, a short bow +1 and 20 arrows +1. This would not be possible via the tables as they only allow a single magic item, and both the bow and set of arrows count as separate items.

There is a similar treasure in Sokol Keep, which could be considered the second or third dungeon "level". Again, it contains both money and 4 magic items, a shield +1, Long Sword +1, Chain Mail +1 and Mace +2. That would not be possible with the tables.

It should be noted that the tables are part of the “random dungeon generation” section of the DMG. It would be logically assumed that said tables are supposed to be a guideline despite their being no text evidence directing the DM to respect the results of said tables. So, one could give SSI a pass for not respecting them, as they could be simply considered guidelines.

2.3. Guarded treasures that do not correspond with the rules

There are several treasure caches present in the Gold Box games that cannot be a product of the random determination tables SSI claims they were forced to stick to.

These caches contain either money or magic in quantities that simply are not in line with the values listed for the foes guarding them.

An early example of this is the cache in the Guild hideout in Curse of the Azure Bonds. It contains these magic items:

4 Potions
Dust of Disappearance
Ioun Stone, Deep Red
2 Magic User Scrolls
Long Sword +1
Banded Mail +1

These monsters should have treasure type A, which provides a 30% chance of the foes having a total of 3 magic items. That list included 10 magic items; there is literally no treasure type that could provide that result.

This a consistent problem with many placed treasures. As a result, any clams from SSI that they were forced to follow the rules are simply incorrect.

I should note than the treasures that are randomly generated in the game, e.g. dropped by random encounters, are usually in line with the Monster Manual’s Treasure Type suggestions.
2.4. Magic items possessed by "classed" NPCs

In almost every case, especially by the later entries in each respective series, the magic items possessed by classed NPC enemies are not in line with the equipment they should have.

In Treasures of the Savage Frontier, for example, Black Robed Masters carry Plate Mail +2, Long Swords +2, Shields +2 and Helms +2.

The 1E DMG, pp 224-226 a Fighter classed NPC has a 7% chance per level of having a +1 Long Sword, a 10% chance per level to have a +1 Shield, and a 6% change per level of having +1 Plate Mail.

I cannot find a level on those NPCs, but as the maximum character level in this game is 11-12 we can assume they’re at most 12th level.

They only have a 1% chance per level, plus their chance at the corresponding +1 item, minus 90% (if that sum is above 0) to have a +2 item. For example; a 12th level fighter has a 120% chance to have a +1 shield, 120% - 90% = 30% + (1% * 12) = 42% chance of having a +2 shield. When you math it all up, a 12th level NPC fighter has a 12% chance of possessing Plate Mail +2, a 42% chance of possessing a Shield +2 and a 12% chance of possessing a Long Sword +2. Magic helms weren’t included in the rules as written.

So, at best, 1 in 8 “Black Robed Masters” should have the aforementioned Plate +2 and Sword +2, about 2 in 5 should have a Shield +2. With the rules as written, the remainder would have NO magic items. If you attempt to roll for the +2 item, and come up empty you cannot roll on the +1 item.

So just in this single example you have a NPC magic item possession rate far above what was recommended in the rules. 

2.5. Monty Haul DMing

Gary Gygax spends several paragraphs in the AD&D 1st Edition DMG condemning “Monty Haul” DMs. Monty Hall was a game show host in the 70s, and that pun was used to describe DMs that were more akin to game show hosts than impartial referees.

Several paragraphs are spent explaining that this type of behavior will lead to bored players and broken economies. It is vehement enough that it seems almost as if Gary was calling out a specific person.

A "Monty Haul" after a fire giant battle in Pool of Radiance. There's no way to even begin to carry so much coin.
Essentially, though, one would have to reasonably believe that the discussion regarding this play style was part of the ruleset. Gygax was stating clearly and for the record, that as a DM you need to be careful about distributing treasure. If you did not the players would quickly get bored of acquiring money and magic, your economy would break, and they would lose much of their motivation for playing.

Not only are such ‘Monty Haul’ games a crashing bore for most participants, they are a headache for DMs as well, for the rules of the game do not provide anything for such play – no reasonable opponents, no rewards, nothing! The creative DM can, of course, develop a game which extrapolates from the original to allow such play, but this is a monumental task to accomplish with even passable results, and those attempts I have seen have been uniformly dismal. [1E DMG p. 92]

2.5.1. Who was this mystery man?

Gary Gygax was, per James “Jim” Ward's own admission, basically calling Jim out for his DM style, which per Jim was overly generous. He enjoyed the positive reactions from players and fed off of that.

This exchange from the "Save Or Die Podcast," episode 68, starting at 8:15 or so illustrates Jim’s mentality quite clearly.

Jim Ward: "In my game I had lots of treasure, because I always liked the way people smile when they get treasure. But I was playing in front of Gary Gygax and he scoffed at that notion and started calling me the Monty Haul DM….I took it as a badge of honor…It’s kind of grown up in the world as a bad thing. If you’re a Monty Haul DM you give away way too much treasure and soon your game goes out of control, but in the 30 plus years I’ve been gaming I’ve never had a game go out of control ever."

Jim Wampler [co-host]: "So no matter how loaded up on magic items and weapons the party gets you can still kill em?

Jim Ward: “Well, yeah, kill em or…"

[Jim then gets interrupted by another co-host who provides an anecdote about a Gamma World game she participated, in with Jim Ward GMing,  in which he successfully killed their characters despite allowing them to pick whatever rare/high powered items they wanted.]

Jim actually ended up writing a column for Dragon magazine for a while, detailing the exploits of a fictitious Monty Haul DM and his players. Generally, these were parody columns that joked about the fact that the players of said DM would need to face enormously overpowered foes in order to be legitimately challenged.

So, again, Jim Ward was Monty Haul. He literally was the DM that Gary told you to not be like. The guy who wrote the rules said, almost literally, in the rulebook “don’t DM like Jim Ward.”

2.5.2. Jim goes to California

By the later 1980s, when TSR and SSI started working on the Gold Box games, Gary Gygax no longer worked for the company he founded, and no longer worked on the game he created.

(For more information on that, one should reference this wonderful article by Jon Peterson.)

As a result, when it came time to send someone to work with SSI on the Gold Box games, to coach the SSI team on their usage of the AD&D rules, Gary, the creator of the game was not sent.

In his place, they sent Jim Ward. Monty Haul. He was a well-respected, senior employee, at this point and his affable nature made him a good fit for this type of collaboration.

Now, in a tabletop game DM’d by Jim, excessive treasure distribution was not a problem, per his own statements above. He can still kill you, even if you’ve been showered in treasure. That pile of money won’t save you, that pile of magic items won’t save you. You play smart, or you die.

The least offensive image that came up when I Googled "gold shower."
This unfortunately does not translate to the CRPG version of that ruleset, and minus Jim’s organic DM-ing style, it is very clear that the treasure distribution he instructed SSI to use had a drastically negative impact on the economy of the game.

Jim did a lot of work on Pool of Radiance, outside of his general coaching. He has a co-writer credit on the pen and paper module used as the basis for the game, he co-wrote the novelization as well. [Ed. We later determined that the module was based on the computer game, not the other way around.] By all accounts, he was the primary designer on the module, and the other listed co-writers created specific sub-sections.

It was technically Jim’s job to tell the SSI folks to not use the written tables verbatim.

It was technically Jim’s job to let them know the unguarded caches mentioned above were a bit much.

It was technically Jim’s job to not allow the level 7-8 characters in Pool of Radiance to get items like a +5 Long Sword at the end of the game, thereby forcing the “reset” at the beginning of Curse, when your team loses their equipment.

He clearly did not do the job he needed to do.

Now, in all fairness, Jim was not a game designer that did a lot of work on this type of a closed system. Any product he created at that time, any games he ran, any rules he wrote; were subject to a human interpreter. With written rules, the DM reading them would either make adjustments on the fly, or hack it somehow.

I think that in this case he just did not understand that tuning would matter--that a secondary pass, to review if the numbers lined up, would mean the difference between a post mortem like this, or something that just worked.

So, unfortunately, in his 30 + years of DMing, he did have a game go out of control due to his views on treasure distribution--several, in fact. Every Gold Box game.

I do want to note that by all accounts Jim is an incredibly affable fellow. Every interview I’ve read, or heard, that he’s participated in has really painted him as a super nice guy. It just seems like he lacked the experience to make the right call here.

3. A complete lack of money sinks, or, what they conveniently left out

For whatever reason, a majority of the rules included in AD&D 1E, that could have allowed players to meaningfully spend the money they acquired, were omitted in the SSI Gold Box games.

These items encompassed everything from hiring support personnel, to building a fiefdom, and were by all accounts very core to the intended play style of the rule set.

3.1. Building a team

As mentioned earlier, the rules of AD&D 1st edition are often derived from the OD&D rules. In many cases, the rules of OD&D were heavily influenced by Gygax's players, and based on historical anecdotes he definitely shaped his game around their play style.

In most cases, his players were wargamers: folks that enjoyed nothing more than commanding armies of soldiers in both board and sand table wargames. As a result, many of them wanted to build small armies around their PCs, both for personal protection and eventual conquest.

They also built a personal retinue for another simple reason: if one cannot survive in a dungeon alone, but one wants the lion's share of the treasure from a dungeon location, why drag along other PCs who will want an equal share? Hire some meat shields, give them a cut of some sort, and get on with it.

To add to this, in AD&D 1st edition, as written, XP is only given for treasure that is successfully found and returned to "civilization" of some sort. Simply finding the treasure, and subsequently ditching it, leaving it behind or having it stolen, does not qualify one for an XP reward. [Ed: This is, of course, another rule dropped by SSI. Experience is rewarded when you find treasure, even if you leave it on the ground, as you typically do after the 6th hour of campaigning.]

This made essential the role of hired bag carriers, teamsters with wagons, and similar NPCs. In 1E, coins weigh 1/10 of a lb per coin. 10,000 gp would weigh 1,000 lbs. You’d clearly need people and equipment to move that.

Since characters often fought and explored in the complete darkness of a dungeon, and one obviously needs to have both hands free for fighting, spell casting, bow use, or other tasks, the role of torch bearer is a required addition to any dungeon expedition.

As a result, there are very robust and detailed systems in AD&D 1st edition to deal with the acquisition, maintenance, and loyalty of henchmen (secondary player characters), hirelings (untrained 0 level NPCs like torch bearers and teamsters) and specialists, such as sages that the party hires to acquire information or identify magical items.

3.1.1. Henchmen

In early AD&D and OD&D, there was, at least at Gary's game, a rule of one PC per player. This appears to have been somewhat strictly enforced. In order to work around this somewhat, while still maintaining "gameplay" of some sort, the henchman role was added to OD&D.

Essentially, a henchman is a secondary player character that is hired by a player character, after being recruited and diced for. There is a decent amount of random determination included in the acquisition and creation of a henchman so the resulting hired character will often be further out of control of the PC's player, in terms of initial generation, then a PC would be. There's also a decent chance that a PC attempting to hire a henchman will be unsuccessful based on a number of factors including PC level and size of the town one is recruiting in.

However, once a Henchman is hired, he essentially becomes a secondary PC for the player that “controls” them. Outside of extreme circumstances, they generally would be under the control of that player, unless the player did something very out of character for said henchman (e.g. "henchman, charge that dragon to buy us time while I go get backup") In those cases the DM would make a loyalty check and the henchman would act based on the results.

Henchmen needed the following from PCs:

1) A share of treasure equal to one half of a PC's share. A party with two henchmen and three PCs would split a treasure into fourths, each PC would get a fourth, the remaining fourth would be split evenly amongst the henchmen.

2) Room and board. This would be a minimal cost, but is required.

3) Equipment and training costs. This would be a bit more substantial.

It was assumed that upon a PCs death, the player could swap to a henchman and either make that his or her new PC, or work to recover the PC for resurrection. PCs would generally "play" their henchmen during sessions; albeit with the restriction that actions not in-character for a henchman would be prohibited or would result in some loss of morale for the henchman.

In many cases, characters had multiple henchmen. Gygax's character, Mordenkainen, had 4 or 5.

Characters with high charisma, who could easily maintain a large number of henchmen, often would, to the detriment of their wallets.

Due to the requirements above, henchmen were fairly expensive to maintain, in terms of overall party costs. A team of PCs that comprises 6 PCs and 6 henchmen would see each PC's share cut to 2/3rds of what it would be without the henchmen. That additional share, plus the upkeep cost of henchmen, conspired to lessen the purse of many PCs.

I miss the hirelings from Pool of Radiance.
It should be noted that Pool of Radiance did allow your team to recruit followers that would each take a treasure and experience share, akin to henchmen. Unlike a pen and paper game, however, you were limited to a maximum of 2 total henchmen in a 6 player party.

A more accurate experience would involve 1-3 henchmen per Player Character, by level 5 or so, for a total party size of 12-24.

3.1.2. Hirelings

Hirelings, unlike henchmen, would not receive an actual share of treasure, but were instead paid a daily or monthly wage. Also, unlike henchmen, hirelings are entirely considered NPCs and are always under the control of the DM.

Lastly, unlike henchmen, hirelings are often hired in very large quantities as they generally cannot advance past 0 level, and are usually hired as a labor force, or as grunts.

A standard party would need at least 2-3 torch bearers at lower levels, a few folks to cart gold back to town with, and maybe a few 0 level man at arms to either assist in the dungeon, or to protect the other hirelings on the surface.

As characters gain levels, and decide to build and man strongholds, their personnel needs would obviously increase. Hundreds of expert craftsmen to build a castle or cathedral. Hundreds of troops to properly man and fortify a holding.

Rules are codified for all of this, and as it takes a fortune to pay and feed an army, it can become a money sink like no other.

These rules were omitted in the Gold Box games. 

3.1.3. Sages

Magical item identification in AD&D 1st edition is a bit of a mixed bag. Potions can be identified by taking a sip. There is an Identify spell introduced, but it is extremely limited in scope and ability.

Bards are able to discern the attributes of unknown items in some manner as well, but bards are absurdly rare, nearly impossible to make as a PC, and only the higher level ones have a solid chance of success.

As a result, the rules assumed Sages would be hired by PCs in order to identify the traits and abilities of found items that were determined to be magical in nature via "Detect Magic."  A character would deposit the item with a trusted sage, pay a healthy fee determined by the DM, and wait a DM-chosen amount of time for the sage to complete his or her work.

This in theory would allow to very cleanly control money supply. "Sorry, this sage says it will be 30,000 gp to identify this incredibly rare and powerful item you have brought him. Oh you only have 32,000 gp. That terrible….”

In contrast to this, in the Gold Box games the party can simply wander into any store and pay 200 gold to immediately identify any item. That ability simply did not exist in AD&D 1st edition as written. Its inclusion retools the process of identifying magical items from a very difficult and expensive one to an incredibly simple and inexpensive one.

Even worse, they seem to have reduced it to 100 gold by the time of Pools of Darkness.
3.1.4. Granted followers
In AD&D 1st Edition rules, most classes are granted a large number of followers at or around 9th level or 10th level, dependent on class.

These followers tend to reflect the class they are assigned to.

Fighters get a large number of men at arms, a small group of leaders for those men, and a few special troops as personal guards. Clerics receive a similar contingent of religious devotees to guard the churches or temples that they build. Rangers receive a set of nature-based followers: animals, woodland spirits, and so on.

A character is generally responsible for the upkeep of these followers, which could become quite expensive when one includes room, board, feed, and equipment. In the case of the fighter’s granted troops, one would need to add, at a minimum, several blacksmiths, armorers, and farriers to the roster, just to keep the equipment of said troops in good order.

Granted followers were omitted completely from the Gold Box games.

3.2. Strongholds and fortifications

As mentioned above, PCs would spend a dramatic amount of money building and staffing strongholds and fortifications. A PC can choose to spend anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of GP just building the fortification. Then one has to pay for staffing and maintenance and upkeep.

Often, characters high enough level to build strongholds would own enough valuable items that they need their own strongholds to house them safely, and armies to protect them. When your PCs have a few hundred thousand GP in gems, jewelry, and assorted coin at their disposal, it becomes quite difficult to find and maintain adequate safe locations to house all that wealth.

Despite potentially having serfs on the land they control, PCs would gain minimal amounts of money from actually holding and maintaining any sort of domain or stronghold. As a result, these fortifications and their associated staff of hundreds quickly become a money sink and a motivation to adventure and acquire money.

In a lot of ways, strongholds are the biggest “money sink” included in the original game. A player could feasibly spend his entire career up until 9th level just saving money to build a stronghold.

Upkeep costs, especially when staff-related expenses are taken into account, would be quite heavy--large enough to force a lazy semi-retired adventurer out in search of a dragon hoard or two just to keep up with the bills.

To frame this in a “real world” scenario, how much more money would your average worker have if any and all of his housing costs vanished tomorrow? Most folks would seem drastically overpaid. This omission drastically unbalances the economy of the game.

 4.0. Conclusion

With all of the data above in mind, it becomes exceedingly clear why the economies in the SSI Gold Box games are so broken.

Many of the rules in the game are only referee-able by a human, and require an organic brain in order to run properly. Many of the rules, as written, require human interpretation in order to “work” in a real scenario. Most of the major money sinks were removed.

SSI was adapting a rule set that was written in a disjointed manner and had an accepted playstyle that, in actual practice, generally comprised a sampling of random rules from several, slightly different, rule sets. In reality the rule set they were adapting was something that was honestly never executed “properly” outside of official tournaments. Even then, the accuracy of their implementation was rarely in the 90%+ range.

In addition, the person assigned to adapt these rules had no desire to create a balanced economy in the process of adaptation, and was, in his own words, philosophically opposed to the balance the creator of the game attempted to build into it.

It was built to spill. Tuning would have been trivial, and the implementation of spell components, increased training costs, realistic item identification costs, and either a henchman/hireling or “stronghold” system would have easily bled off that extra cash.

As-is the “meat” of the games, exploration, and combat, are quite enjoyable, so the weakness of this particular facet is excusable.


Chet here for some final thoughts. First of all, I thank OldWowBastard for this incredibly well-researched article that at least tripled my knowledge of tabletop D&D.

I also echo his last statement: these are fantastic games, as their places on my list of "highest rated" titles clearly demonstrate. It's primarily because of how good they were in other areas that the failure to adequately implement this one facet of gameplay is so frustrating.

Many of the ways that SSI could have "fixed" the economy, either by adhering to the original rules or creating their own, would have added significantly to game development time, complexity, disk space, memory, and other "hard" considerations. I wouldn't really have expected them to include hirelings or strongholds, for instance, or even an item-breakage-and-repair system.
Note that by the time of Pools of Darkness, treasure and experience do seem more divorced from each other than in earlier games.
But there are numerous other fixes that would have worked within their existing programming. Bastard covers a few above. My "master list" of such potential fixes would include:

1. Increased costs for training.

2. Higher costs for staying at inns, especially for the multiple days it takes higher-level characters to memorize all spells.

3. Higher costs for item identification, perhaps tied to character level.

4. Roaming healers. In most of the games, the only places to pay for healing are found in towns, when you're perfectly safe to rest at your leisure.

5. Bribing wandering monsters to disappear.

6. Transportation costs. It must require mounts, equipment, and food to gallop around the Moonsea. Having each trip cost a reasonable amount of money would add a tactical element to the otherwise-easy decision whether to frequently return to "home base" for healing, item identification, training, and so forth.

7. Magical items that you actually want to buy. Make them incredibly expensive; I don't care. If at the end of Secret of the Silver Blades, the party combined its amassed gold for the entire game and was just barely able to afford a Girdle of Giant Strength, it would be a much better economy.

8. Eliminate the rule that you lose a point of constitution on successful resurrection. With that rule in place, no one pays for resurrection. They reload.

9. Mimic the "spell components" system by draining money for every spell cast. You'd think twice about spamming "Fireball" in late-game battles.

10. Allow spellcasters to buy specific, named spells instead of just scrolls where they don't know what they're going to get.

11. And, of course, just offer less treasure in general. You could grant each party a tenth of the treasure found in each game and they'd still have more than enough. 
I hope this two-part article has been informative, and that overall you're satisfied with the first "guest post" on the CRPG Addict. I'll think about offering posts from other commenters in the future!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Guest Post: Why the Economy Sucks in the SSI Gold Box Games (Part 1)

In the midst of my experience with Pools of Darkness, I thought it was time to offer this guest post, written by frequent CRPG Addict commenter OldWowBastard. Aside from the overall title, I found Bastard's article a great primer on the development of D&D games and the adaptation of tabletop rules to a CRPG format.

I edited the content and provided the images, so if any errors remain, that's on me.


Why the Economy Sucks in the SSI Gold Box Games
Part 1: Examining SSI's adherence to AD&D rules
by OldWowBastard
When it came to "riches" and "making your fortune," this advertisement for mercenaries certainly didn't lie.
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) acquired the license to create officially branded AD&D computer games from TSR, the owners and creators of D&D and AD&D, in the mid/late 80s. Of the products created by SSI between 1987 and 1995, the "Gold Box" series of games (so named due their distinctive gold packaging) was the most popular. Between 1988 and 1993, 13 games were released in this series.

SSI created ten of the Gold Box titles in house. A series of 4 is set in the Forgotten Realms: Pool of Radiance (1988), Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989), Secret of the Silver Blades (1990) and Pools of Darkness (1991). They also created a series of 3 games set in the world of Krynn: Champions of Krynn (1990), Death Knights of Krynn (1991), and Dark Queen of Krynn (1992). The SSI series is rounded out by two Buck Rogers XXVc adventures--Countdown to Doomsday (1990) and Matrix Cubed (1992)--and a Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures construction set (1993).

An additional series of two Forgotten Realms games, Gateway to the Savage Frontier (1991) and Treasures of the Savage Frontier (1992), along with an early MMO that was run on AOL, Neverwinter Nights (1991), were created by outside studios, using the SSI tools, under license from SSI.

This series of games is generally regarded by RPG and CRPG fans as one of the best adaptations of the AD&D 1st edition style rules. Their adaptation of the AD&D 1st edition combat system in particular is well executed. To the point that, despite the aging interface and older style of presentation, many still find these games very enjoyable. 

Unfortunately, as many fans know, there is one glaring flaw in these games: they essentially lack any sort of useful economy. Money, in almost every game in the series, is essentially useless, because of the fact that the party is given copious amounts of it, at every turn, as a reward. Unlike most other games of the era, there is simply nothing worthwhile to spend money on. In an average play-through your party will throw away literal mountains of copper, silver, gold and platinum.

My goal, in this article, is to examine the how's and why's of this situation, and to essentially assign responsibility for this state of affairs as I see it. During the course of this post we will discuss several points about these games. SSI's company line that they were forced to use the rules as written, the changes made by SSI to the written rules, how money sinks were avoided, and how they clearly followed treasure tables, while ignoring written rules in the DMG that were supposed to be used in conjunction with said tables.

Let's begin.

0. A quick discussion on the origin of the rules

It makes sense to review the origin and purpose of the AD&D 1st edition ruleset, and do a quick review of the versions publicly available when these games were released, prior to any deep dive discussion. At the time, the general perception of D&D/AD&D, and the commonly accepted playstyle, were heavily shaped by all of the available versions.

It was quite common, in active play at the time, for the rules from the disparate rule sets to be intermixed as “house rules”--especially since at least one of the systems “suggested” that one start with Basic and then move to 1E.

0.1. OD&D

Dungeons and Dragons was originally released in 1974 as a boxed set of 3 booklets. This ruleset is generally referred to as OD&D, or the LBBs (an acronym for Little Brown Books, as the three booklets were brown and fairly small in size). It was originally attributed to Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. This game was initially, essentially, an expansion of the Chainmail wargame/mass combat rules released by Guidion Games written by Gygax and Jeff Perrin in the early 1970s.

One of the original "Little Brown Books."
This was a fairly bare bones release. Combat rules were omitted, and referees were instead supposed to use systems from the parent game, Chainmail. In its earliest form, the game only had three classes: fighting man, magic user, and cleric. Hobbits, dwarves, and elves were included; the former two were only allowed to be fighting men, while the latter could be a fighting man or magic user, per the player’s choice at the start of each day.

Every aspect of this ruleset, from syntax to rules descriptions, assumed the reader had an extensive background in wargaming. Miniature sand table scale was often used in place of specific ranges or areas of effect, for example.

Very little direction was given to the DM (then just called a referee) in terms of creating a campaign world, lore, or story. He was supposed to instead just build a dungeon and stock it with an assortment of traps, treasures, and monsters.

If one wanted to attempt overland exploration, the referee was instructed to use the hex map from Avalon Hill’s Wilderness Survival game, or another similar pre-generated map, and simply utilize the wilderness random encounter tables. Said tables included fairly deadly challenges, so this was generally considered an option for higher level characters.

0.2. OD&D Supplements

OD&D was quickly supplemented as the initial rule set exploded in popularity.

Its first supplement, Greyhawk, introduced the thief and paladin classes and added new combat rules that allowed referees to run the game without owning a copy of Chainmail.

Its second supplement, Blackmoor, added the druid and assassin classes and included the first pre-made scenario. This supplement contains one of the first appearances of the term "Dungeon Master."

Eldridch Wizardry and Gods, Demi Gods and Heroes added psionic rules and stats for deities and heroes, respectively.

By the time the last supplement was released, most of what would become the core of AD&D was in place. A few classes still not in the game officially (ranger, monk) had been detailed in Dragon magazine (TSR’s AD&D magazine) or the Strategic Review (its predecessor.)

0.3. Holmes Basic

By 1977, D&D had become fairly popular, but as the rules were spread around a boxed set and 4 supplements, it was a bit unwieldy for the novice.

Dr. J. Eric Holmes essentially volunteered to re-write the game for a “younger” audience, in a single package, which resulted in the version colloquially referred to as the "Holmes" edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Technically, it is the first product that was titled Basic Dungeons and Dragons.

This version was released shortly before AD&D 1st edition and is essentially a bridge between OD&D + Greyhawk, and AD&D 1st edition. It is a re-write and distillation of the OD&D rules, plus the Greyhawk supplement and monsters from a few other sources. It includes the thief class from Greyhawk but omits the paladin from that supplement, for example. It only covers levels 1-3 and instructs players and referees to graduate to AD&D after that point.

0.4. AD&D 1st Edition

By 1976 or so, OD&D had been widely adopted and heavily extended by third parties. Gygax was frustrated to receive letters from campaigns that had characters with levels in the 100s, capable of defeating entire pantheons of gods.

This frustrated TSR; having seen the success of Judge’s Guild’s adventure modules and campaign info, they had plans to release similar supplemental published materials for DMs. These materials were difficult to produce if a baseline for the game did not exist. A module for characters level 8-12 would be useless for a DM in a campaign that had characters in the 100s, and allowed characters to surpass those levels in a single encounter.

D&D tournaments at gaming conventions had become quite popular as well, so there was a desire to better codify the ruleset in order to facilitate easy tournament DM-ing.

Primarily due to these factors, AD&D 1st edition was created.
The Dungeon Masters Guide leads off the first edition rules.
As this edition was written on a fairly rushed schedule, rules are often explained in a contradictory or unclear manner. Disparate sub-systems are utilized to resolve similar situations, often because the writer or creator of sub-system A did collaborate with the creator of sub-system B.

This is a drastic contrast to something like the D20 system when most actions boil down to “roll a D20, add bonuses, try to hit a target.” Some of those flaws are examined in a bit more detail in the body of this work.

It is worth noting that there is also some evidence that AD&D was created to split the product line, so TSR could stop paying royalties to co-creator Dave Arneson. Arneson brought suit against TSR for royalties and, by all accounts, eventually won a “per book” royalty rate for all AD&D 1st edition products.

0.5. B/X - Moldvay/Cook

By 1980, Dungeons and Dragons had experienced a massive surge in popularity due in part to the hysteria surrounding the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert.

AD&D 1st edition was completed with the release of the Dungeon Master’s Guide in 1979, but early acceptance was not universal, and as the rule set was built for tournament use, it was a bit complex to DM. As a result, with the influx of new users, there was a clear need for a new ruleset that was easily understandable and teachable. Moldvay/Cook was written to fit this niche.

In most cases, rules are influenced by OD&D and AD&D but are presented in a clearer and more concise manner. Subsystems tend to be minimized, and the language used is geared more towards elementary or middle school aged readers, as opposed to the “high Gygaxian” (complex prose that mixed old English and obscure wargaming terms with actual colloquial English) used in 1E.

It was fairly common for people to use the “meat” of the rules from this system (e.g., how to adjust combat and exploration) while using the “fun stuff” from 1E: spells, classes, monsters, magic items, and so forth.

0.6. BECMI

After the success of B/X, and with the impending release of the D&D Saturday morning cartoon, TSR decided to revamp the “Basic” D&D line one additional time in 1983. This resulted in the release of the BECMI (Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, Immortal) set of boxed products.

These releases featured high-quality illustrations by Larry Elmore, with interior art by Elmore and Easley. This was the origin of the iconic “Red Box” D&D Basic Set, which was the first product released in the series. It was a fairly massive step up in presentation for the D&D or AD&D line, by the standards of the day.

Initially, the rule set was identical to Moldvay/Cook up until the Companion set. Beyond that, TSR introduced new material (e.g., the immortal rules, weapon mastery, proto-"prestige" classes) or massively re-written versions of OD&D or AD&D rules. The Basic and Expert sets were essentially a re-presentation of the B/X versions of those products, albeit with the introduction of a "solo" adventure to allow one to learn to play without a group.

This product line was the most common introduction to D&D or AD&D for most people in the 1980s. As with B/X, it was fairly common for 1E DMs, in the mid- to late 1980s, to incorporate combat, surprise, and exploration from this edition, alongside the classes, spells, weapons, magic items and monsters from 1E.

1.0 Rule changes

SSI has always stated that their license with TSR required them to follow the AD&D 1st edition rules. Their stance is that any issues with the economy were endemic to the rule set. From the CRPG Addict’s discussion with SSI Producer Victor Penman (contained in a posting on Champions of Krynn):

I asked Mr. Penman about [the problems with the in-game economy], and he attributed this problem mostly to the AD&D rules, which gave experience rewards based on both enemy hit dice and the amount of treasure collected…. TSR required SSI to use official rules for both experience and treasure… Penman somewhat brusquely told me that, "Following the rules and providing XP were our concerns, not what people spent money on."

Unfortunately, this statement is heavily inaccurate as SSI modified the AD&D core rules substantially in order to fit them into the paradigm of the game they wanted to make. Changes were made at several levels in order to adapt a table top, human moderated experience, into a computer based, pre-programmed experience. In some cases, rules were changed as their written implementation would not work in actual play. The rest of this article examines the many changes that SSI was not afraid to make to AD&D 1st edition rules.

1.1 Combat

Arbitration of combat in AD&D 1st edition has in practice been performed incorrectly more often than it has been performed correctly. This is due to several reasons, including the complexity of the rules, their general incompatibility with "heroic" roleplaying, and the fact that many of the rules used to arbitrate combat are documented in the DMG in a manner that is simply not clear or well organized.
Combat in a CRPG allowed implementation of more complex mathematics than pen-and-paper players were willing to put up with.
For a quick illustration of the “complexity” statement above, I will direct the reader to the ADDICT document, which comprehensively details how to accurately arbitrate the surprise and initiative rules in AD&D 1E, when all of their apparent inconsistencies have been accounted for. This document is 20 pages, including footnotes, and it details nothing beyond “which side is surprised at the start of an encounter” and “what order to actions occur in combat, in the course of a round."

Rules of a complexity to require a subsequent 20-page long companion document to explain are built to spill, and were obviously rarely, if ever, run by the book in actual play.

As noted above, combat in the Basic versions of D&D available commercially alongside AD&D 1st edition was substantially less complicated and easier to run. Those rules allow for a simple “roll a die, the side with the [higher|lower] number goes first” for the purposes of determining initiative, for example. Much simpler than the aforementioned 1E rules.

As a result, many players substituted B/X or BECMI rules with AD&D combat rules, as their approach to combat was substantially clearer and streamlined.

Many of the combat changes made in the Gold Box games resemble a B/X or BECMI rule set approach, and they ignore rules that were key to combat pace and feel in AD&D 1st edition.  Several of these changes are outlined below.

1.1.1. Moving into melee/charge

As written, a character may not move into melee range and attack an opponent in the same round, without using the "charge" maneuver. Charge provides the victim with a to-hit bonus, opens the charging party to some special attacks, and removes the ability of the user to use dexterity-based armor class modifiers. When charge is used, the combatant with the longest weapon strikes first, regardless of initiative.

To counter, the combatant receiving the charge may “set” a spear or pole arm to receive the charge; if they successfully hit the charging opponent, the weapon will do double damage. This makes charge into a somewhat risky maneuver. This becomes additionally risky, as the receiving combatant with a spear or pole arm “set” to receive a charge will also strike first, unless the unit initiating the charge is using a longer weapon.

Alternatively, a character or monster may choose to move into melee range without utilizing a charge. If this option is taken, no attacks may be made by the moving party as the round is spent closing into melee range carefully while fending off any "attacks of opportunity."
Karnov has no problem charging and attacking the pyrohydra in one round.
SSI completely ignored these rules in the Gold Box games. There is no charge maneuver. Characters can move into melee range, without an attack of opportunity by their opponent even if said opponent has a longer weapon, and then perform a standard melee attack. [Ed: is the ability of characters and monsters to "Guard" in the SSI games related to rules about charging and setting weapons? Or was this a separate action in the tabletop rules?]

Given the risk associated with a charge, this change has a dramatic impact on the pace and nature of combat. One can move into melee multiple times in a round, if multiple attacks are available, in an SSI game. One cannot do so in the rules as written. The written rules allow a set of units effectively to block access to a more vulnerable unit; without those rules, it becomes easier for units to target vulnerable foes without a chance of impediment. Thus, these changes drastically alter the feel and flow of combat.

This was likely done because the average CRPG gamer would have seen that set of terms as unacceptable. “I have to move to the monster and just sit there a round before I can attack?! Wtf?!” would likely have been a common reaction.

Most AD&D 1st edition players ignored that rule as well. BECMI and B/X allow one to move and then strike without a charge, and that was generally the accepted play style.

As a result, in terms of "popular play style," the SSI modification was truer to a standard experience. It was however a clear and obvious example of a drastic change to a very basic rule to improve the gameplay experience.

1.1.2. Item/treasure breakage

Another important rule that was omitted is the concept of item breakage during combat. In AD&D 1E it was fairly easy for magical items and treasure to get destroyed in the course of combat.

"Cone of Cold," for example, was developed specifically by Gary Gygax’s son Ernie, because he was sick of ruining all of the treasure they’d find when he’d cast a "Fireball" at a group of opponents.

Per the table on the 1E DMG page 80: "Metal, soft or Jewelry" saves against a Fireball on an 18-20 on a d20 roll. So, with RAW, anytime you’d cast a fireball you have an 85% chance of melting any gold or jewelry on the target. It only fails its save 5% of the time vs. "Cone of Cold" or "Ice Storm," though.

It should be noted that this applied to everything. A character caught in a "Fireball" had to roll for any money on his person, any jewelry, any armor or weapons.

Metal, Hard, saves 75% of the time, with a +5% bonus per +1 on a magical item, but that still means over time you’d lose a lot of treasure, and personal weapons and items, to fireballs. Even a +4 or +5 suit of armor would, statistically speaking, get blown to bits by the twentieth-ish fireball that hit you, since they would still fail a save on a 1 d20 (5% chance).

These rules were, it should be noted, generally not used in "standard" play. It’s pretty cumbersome to make 7+ die rolls, per character, per fireball. As a result, most people would not have expected them to exist, and their exclusion is understandable.

It should also be noted that the BECMI and B/X versions of D&D did not include this rule. I cannot find them offhand in OD&D, but it has been stated that Gygax used them with that ruleset, so I may simply have missed them or they may be in the parent Chainmail rules.

Whatever the case, there is simply no mechanism whatsoever for breaking or destroying player inventory or treasure in the Gold Box titles.

My spellcaster prepares to destroy the enemies and, according to the rules, most of their stuff.
1.1.3. Firing missiles into melee

In the rules as written, it was somewhat difficult to hit a specific target when firing into a general melee. Specifically, one was not allowed to pick the target and instead the target hit would be diced for.

Essentially, the DM was instructed to assign a value to each unit in melee, based on size, and then roll to determine which combatant was hit based on said value. An example would be two medium sized combatants and a large one in a combat. DM would assign a value of 1 to each medium target, and 2 to the large one. He’d then roll a D4, 1 indicating medium target 1, 2 indicating medium target 2 and 3-4 indicating the large target.

Therefore, in a melee of 4 friendlies and 4 hostile opponents you would have a 50/50 chance of hitting an ally, if you fire into said melee.

In the Gold Box games these rules were removed, and you can target any combatant within range with missile fire.

1.2. Monster reactions

Rules for resolving how non-plot-based, wandering monsters react to PCs in AD&D 1st edition are covered in a few tables in the DMG. These tables are heavily based on dice results, and while there is room for player action, good or bad dice rolls can have a stronger effect in many cases than player action.

In SSIs Gold Box games, most of the time monsters will attack immediately. In the cases they do not, there are a few different potential options.

1) Party is presented with a basic yes/no, attack/run, set of binary options. In some cases, you are provided a legitimate fight/do not fight option and can bypass said combat. In others this is more accurately a "fight this now, or come back later" choice as said combat must be completed in order to clear the area and/or progress the plot.

2) Party is presented with an "attitude" menu, do they react Haughty, Sly, Meek, Nice, Abusive? Monster response is pre-programmed to those cases, it appears. Monsters respond as programmed. In Pool of Radiance, for example, acting "abusive" towards lower level humanoids will generally make them flee.
Encounter options in Pool of Radiance replace what was supposed to be a more flexible system.
This is drastically at odds with the system presented in AD&D 1st edition. The system presented in AD&D 1st edition would allow most parties to avoid those "truly" random encounters. Any monsters not specifically angry at the PCs current incursion can potentially be convinced, or die-rolled, into a neutral or even potentially positive stance.

Gary Gygax himself often stated that avoiding combat was preferable to combat, in D&D. This is supported by several facets of the game. An easy example is the fact that gold and treasure XP is often much higher than the XP acquired from killing monsters.  

One can see why this system was adapted, as the permutations possible in the written system would be almost impossible to arbitrate or control properly in a game. In an organic situation, the DM can simply play the role of the monsters and react to the PCs accordingly.

Programming a similar set of reactions would not have been a real option in the late 1980s. This process requires human judgment to be applied in a very situational manner. There are also no accommodations in the Gold Box engine to allow complex player interaction with monsters. There’s no “I give the orcs 300 gold and tell them to not bother my party of Level 6-9 heavies” button.

Due to those programming limitations, and the inability of a “digital DM” to accommodate those types of plans, SSI simply ignored these rules and re-wrote them to fit their engine. Although understandable, it is nonetheless a dramatic re-write of a rule that is very core to the source game.

1.3. Classes

AD&D 1st edition includes several classes that were not included in the Gold Box games. Assassins, illusionists, druids, and monks simply do not make an appearance in this series. As many know, the paladin and ranger are not present in Pool of Radiance, the first game in the series, as well.
Even a late entry in the Gold Box series omits several canonical classes.
I've never seen a reason provided for this specifically, but when you look at each class there are some issues with each that prevent an easy translation into a CRPG.

It’s easy to see how the illusionist's spells are a bad fit as they require human arbitration and player DM interaction to work properly. Spells like "Phantasmal Force" are the bread-and-butter of the class, but are wholly open ended. Do you cast "Phantasmal Force" and make a dragon appear to breathe fire on a pack of orcs, causing them to save vs. magic or die from heart attacks? Use it to create an illusionary magic item to bribe them with? A majority of the illusionist's spells fall into the “tell me what you’re going to do with this” category, in a way that was not parse-able by systems in 1988. It’s a class that demands creative play, and that is simply not possible in a CRPG context, with 1980s resources.

Druids have a number of odd open-ended abilities; one example is a 3/day shape shift into "any" animal form (within size limits) that again would be nearly impossible to program around, especially in 1988. They also have a spell list that is similar to the cleric, but different, with a number of more wilderness-oriented spells. Many of them are summoning spells or, essentially, follower-acquisition spells. Based on a deep look at the 1E druid, a lot of their power comes from their ability to collect animal “henchmen” or summon animals which would have required additional programming to accommodate.

Since memory-per-disk was a limitation, including the druid's and illusionist’s additional spells would likely not have been possible.

Assassins were likely omitted due to the nature of their primary special ability. Essentially, they can assassinate a target, on a successful D100 roll, based on their level and the target’s level. This ability as discussed in the DMG (p. 75) indicates that the ability works for a PC assassin as follows:

1)  The assassin’s player details the assassination plan to the DM

2)  DM takes a few environmental and situational factors into account; for instance, does the target trust the assassin, how well guarded is the target, are they impaired or asleep when the attempt occurs.

3)  DM then consults a table, cross checks the assassin’s level vs. the target’s, and modifies the percentage chance of success based organically on factors from item 2 above. There is no written guidance on how to arbitrate those modifications other than “you may adjust slightly for optimum conditions” and “you must deduct points if the intended victim is wary, takes precautions...”

4)    Assassin PC rolls a D100 and needs to roll under the % determined by the DM in step 3. If they succeed, the target is successfully assassinated. If they fail this roll, there is no guidance on how to arbitrate the failure, other than “weapon damage always occurs and may kill the victim even though ‘assassination’ failed.”

This ability is quite open-ended, and the rules seem to hover between it being an all-encompassing ability (e.g., the D100 roll includes every step of the assassination) or a more limited one (e.g., the D100 roll is to kill the target only, other factors do not matter). While the rules for modifying the role seem to indicate it is an all-encompassing roll, the “Weapon damage always occurs...” addendum seems to indicate the opposite.

Due to the complexity involved on either side, and the potential for plot disruption, I can see why this class was exorcised.

Lastly, monks have some open ended abilities like druids that would be hard to arbitrate. At lower levels they are somewhat useless, they cannot wear armor, and they do not get dexterity modifiers to AC. This prevents them from being a front line fighter, as they’re very easy to hit and do not have a large enough pool of hit points to make up for their lack of AC. Their unarmored AC and open hand damage, which both improve per level, become unbalanced around level 7, and then later become game-breaking by Level 14 or so.

These classes are a core part of the game, but they were exorcised completely. A massive change to the rules.

1.4. Races

AD&D 1st edition, in the original form, had at least one playable race that the SSI games omitted: the half-orc. To this day, I have yet to see a reason or justification for this. In my own mind, I cannot find one. This race was removed from AD&D 2nd Edition, which was released shortly after the first Gold Box game, but the reason for their omission is simply unknown.

Programmatically, I cannot see how including the half-orc could have caused any problems outside of minor memory overhead, particularly since there are half-orc NPCs and enemies in the game. Their lack of inclusion as a PC race is simply puzzling.
If this bandit leader can be a half-orc, why can't I?
They were dropped from 2E, apparently due to TSR’s desire to reduce parental and religious backlash against the game, and as this product came out so close to 2E it is possible they were omitted for similar reasons.

Half orcs were brought back into 2E with the release of the Book of Humanoids player’s book. Regardless, they were omitted here which is a clear change to the rules.

1.5. Spells

The following sections detail changes in the adaptation of the spell system to the Gold Box titles.

1.5.1. Missing spells

AD&D 1st edition, as written, contains a plethora of spells available for your spell casters to utilize in the course of role playing. Some, like "Fireball," are holdovers from the game's wargaming roots, and therefore were included as they are easily administrable in a combat situation, and are generally created wholly for that.

Many others, however, are substantially less destructive. Some are only useful in specific situations, when utilized by a good player.

In the Gold Box games, a majority of the spells involving travel, enchanting, divination, or really anything outside of the combat game and combat resource management portion of the game, are omitted.

In many cases the number of spells omitted per level exceeds the number included. This is exacerbated if you count the spell lists in Unearthed Arcana as “canonical,” which technically they would be.

Again, any justification for their exclusion would be pure speculation on my part. Many of the omitted travel spells would be game-breaking in the exploration portion of Gold Box games. "Fly" or "Teleport," for example, both really break something like Secret of the Silver Blades. "Teleport without Error" breaks any geographic barrier that could be thrown at you.

Why hike through miles of Ice Crevasses when your mage can just cast "Teleport without Error" and bam, you’re at the Dreadlord’s castle, in his boudoir, and he’s staring at you in his Lich undies with a confused look.

Many divinations could be game-breaking as well. "Speak with Dead" would allow a plot bypass in any “we need info from this guy” situations. "Contact Outer Plane" would as well. "Clairvoyance" spoils the encounter behind the door in front of you. [Ed: But including it would have solved one of the most frustrating issues with Gold Box combat: you don't know it was time to buff until you've already stumbled into combat.]

In a tabletop game, the DM has to find ways to work around this stuff, if they would break the game. Or you allow them and work around it. In a CRPG, it would be impossible; hence, their omission.

1.5.2. Spell Books

In AD&D 1E, magic users needed to access their spells in written form to study them. Said spells were written in either standard or travel-style spell books. These were heavy items, with limited spell capacity. In the context of a normal game, it would be quite difficult for a traveling magic user to have access to every spell he or she had written down.

Loss of a spell book, or several spell books, would be a major crisis as the character would need to somehow re-acquire their lost spells and pay for new books. This would likely require substantial expense and adventuring time.

Spellbooks from enemy spell casters become useful items in this context. Need to learn "Fireball"? Kill that mage that just cast it on you, take his spellbook, and read.

This concept of the spellbook as an inventory item, or series of inventory items, was hand-waved in the Gold Box games and was simply omitted.

1.5.3. Spell components

In 1st edition AD&D, many spells require an additional material component to cast. In some cases, these components are somewhat trivial in nature; for instance, the primary component for "Fireball" is a bit of bat guano. In other cases, they can be somewhat expensive. "Raise Dead" requires a 1,000-gold-piece gem.

These were completely omitted in the Gold Box games.

Including them would potentially have been simple. A store or two could have been devoted to spell reagents/components a la Ultima IV, and/or they could have potentially been harvestable from downed foes.

That said, the first game in the series was created when disk storage was exceptionally expensive. Their inclusion would have incurred a cost at several layers, and was likely not considered worthwhile as a result.

These components are often hand-waved by DMs when they’re not exceptionally expensive in nature. So their omission is understandable.

1.5.4. Magic item creation

Magic Item Creation in AD&D 1st edition is allowed, and is a very valid money sink. That being said, the rules in the Pre-3.x versions of AD&D/D&D are much less codified, and structured, than the ones you would find in 3.x+, Pathfinder, et al.

A DM is first instructed to force the players to pay a sage or high level character for the initial formula for any magic item created, be it a potion, weapon, armor, wand, or other item. As written, the processes involved in creating magic items are simply not known to common folks.

From there, we have a ton of very loose procedural rules. For potion creation, a lab must be built at a cost of 200-1000gp, plus a 10% upkeep cost. Potions generally cost 200-500 gp to create and require rare and hard-to-acquire substances. A list of suggestions for various potions is provided: troll blood is a potential ingredient for a Potion of Extra Healing, for example. Said list does not cover every potion detailed in even the 1E DMG, so most of this is left to the DM to determine.

Mages from levels 7-10 can only brew potions if they pay an alchemist for assistance; mages from 11+ can brew them without aid. There are no rules listed to allow clerics to brew potions.

Scrolls can be scribed by any spell caster 7th level or higher. In this case, the rare ingredients are used to make the ink used to scribe the scroll. Suggested items to make said ink really are not purchase-able and require the mage to gather them from downed foes, in most cases. The rules required to make said ink are codified well, unlike the potion ingredient rules.

There is a chance of failure per spell scribed, modified upwards by the spell level, and downwards by the inscriber's level. A failed attempt means the entire scroll is ruined, and any ink already used is wasted.

Other items have much more vague guidelines involved. Essentially they instruct the DM to make up the costs on the fly, depending on the item the player wants to build. A Ring of Protection, the book's provided example, would require a masterwork-quality non-magical ring as a base. 5000gp is given as an example cost for a "base" item.

Mages need to use the "Permanency," "Enchant an Item," and/or "Enchanted Weapon" spells to make items with a +x factor, such as a Longsword +1.

In other cases, the mage would need to cast spells into a desired item then “seal” it in with a "Permanency" spell. In most cases, the spells required to enchant an item with a specific trait are basically left up to the DM to determine.

Between limited spell durations, and failure chance, there was an odd balancing act in place with this process. Enchanting a +5 weapon, for example, would be tricky due to the time limit and long casting time of "Enchant Weapon" and "Permanency." Additionally, a player was not told during the enchanting process if a step failed, and would instead be told at the end. Basically this kept PCs to the creation of +3 or +4 weapons/armor, unless they were exceptionally lucky, or very high level. Spell memorization limits came into play here was well.

As a result of this balancing act, the mage performing the enchantment would often need to cast some spells from scrolls. This would likely require the mage in question to pre-scribe the scrolls needed for the enchantment, incurring additional time or monetary costs.

For clerics and druids, the rules are absurdly simple and much clearer: pray daily, at a special altar, and there is a 1% cumulative daily chance of the item being empowered by the cleric's deity. So by day 50+ or so you're pretty much set.

Regardless of the item made, or method, any non-scrolls or potions made incur several days of inactivity on the part of the creator. 1 day/100xp value of the item is suggested. This is a fairly bad penalty, as a Mage that creates a Staff of the Magi, for example, would have to rest for 150 days afterwards.

More complex items are explicitly excluded from creation. Any of the Manuals that provide XP or improve stats cannot be created, nor can items like the Hammer of Thunderbolts. There is little codification as to which items are supposed to be excluded. This is again left to the DM to determine.

It is a bit disappointing that these rules were excluded from the Gold Box games. In Curse of the Azure Bonds, for instance, a sage in each town might have sold a magic item recipe for a high price. You could then undergo the required steps to make that item, if it seemed worthwhile, burning more money in the process and perhaps taking the mage character out of commission for part of the gameplay. [Ed: I'm thinking of a system that combines the way weapons and armor are created in The Magic Candle with the way characters must leave the party to work regular jobs.]

That being said, this is a completely understandable change. As-is, a mage does not have direct access to "Permanency" until they can cast 8th level spells, so it’s omission outside of Pools of Darkness and Dark Queen of Krynn is in line with the games' own power curve. If they had included a magic item creation process in those games, they would have also needed to provide "Permanency" scrolls.

These games also had memory restrictions that forced them to include text in an external manual; I cannot imagine they would have had room left over for an item creation sub-game that would have involved collecting “parts” from fallen foes.

1.6. Experience from story/plot actions

In Champions of Krynn, SSI started to include experience rewards for completing plot points. These were often rather substantial XP rewards and in later games are quite essential in the overall leveling process.

In the AD&D 1st edition rules, there is no precedence for this. As mentioned in the 0.x sections above, AD&D 1st edition is really just a distillation of the 1974 D&D rules, with the 3 supplements added in. OD&D circa 1974 was a game of exploration, not story. Story happened because of the exploration, but characters were in the dungeon because it was there, not because of a plot justification.
A character gets experience for talking his way out of combat. This isn't supposed to happen.
OD&D was a sandbox game and AD&D 1st edition, when written, was not modified to be a story-centric game. As a result, Gygax did not consider or include rules for XP rewards due to plot points. XP was given for defeating foes, gathering treasure, gaining and creating magic items, and a few other edge cases.

One could argue that the XP rewards for treasure, since they were only given once the treasure was successfully brought back to civilization, were used as a meta reward to include any plot-specific XP gained in the course of said acquisition. This is my personal belief as well based on my interpretation of the rules; 1 xp per gp was simply used as a blanket reward for successful adventuring.

AD&D 2nd edition did include rules for story-based XP rewards as the game had evolved into more of a story-telling game than a sandbox dungeon/wilderness exploration game. It should be noted that AD&D 2nd Edition core rules do not provide XP for treasure as a baseline. They do acknowledge that as a potential optional rule, but even in the suggested optional rule description, xp is supposed to be rewarded for gold at a ratio lower than the 1:1 that 1E had. They recommend 1 xp per 2-5 gp in those cases.

As SSI included story rewards, they did not stick to 1st edition rules.

1.7. Unearthed Arcana omissions

In 1985, TSR released the Unearthed Arcana expansion volume for the AD&D 1st edition rules. This volume detailed several new character classes (cavalier, barbarian, thief-acrobat) expanded existing classes (notably the ranger and druid), introduced weapon specialization into the game, added several character races, increased the level caps and class options for non-humans, and added a number of new magic items and spells.

Of all of the rules introduced in this expansion, the only things included in the Gold Box games were a small handful of spells and a few magic items (most notably Dart of the Hornet’s Nest). All character-related additions were ignored. All additional classes, all of the additional races, the increased racial class level caps, weapon specialization, new armor and weapons, along with the majority of the aforementioned added spells and magic items.

There is some logic to this. UA was generally considered to be unbalanced, was play-tested minimally, was released when TSR was cash-strapped, and was heavily “errata’d” in Dragon magazine. Both the cavalier and barbarian were re-tuned in at least one Dragon article each, to bring them in line with “normal” characters.

While the omissions might therefore make sense, it's worth noting that at the time, AD&D 1E’s core rules really only consisted of Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, 3 books of monsters (Monster Manual 1 and 2, and the Fiend Folio) and Unearthed Arcana. Leaving the majority of an entire book of rules out of these games is a big omission as a result.

1.8. Weapon proficiencies

In AD&D 1st edition, characters are given a small number (2-4 depending on class) of weapon proficiency “slots." These are used to select in which weapons the character is proficient. Non-proficient weapon use incurs a to hit penalty of -1 to -4 (based on class). Characters gain slots as they level, which allows them to become proficient in new weapons.

As briefly mentioned in 1.7, Unearthed Arcana introduced weapon specialization. This system allows fighters and rangers to spend a second proficiency slot on a weapon, which then bestows a faster attack rate, and to-hit and damage bonus. Essentially, they are given +1 to hit, +2 to damage, and their attacks per round with said weapon increase by 1 step, allowing 3 attacks every 2 rounds at level 1 or 2 attacks every round at level 7, for a standard melee weapon.

These rules were wholly omitted in the Gold Box games. This does make some sense as the pre-Unearthed Arcana system is a “penalty only” type of system. Specifically, there are no advantages to being proficient in a weapon, but there are substantial disadvantages in being non-proficient in a weapon. This type of system is generally frowned upon in modern game design. Regardless, its omission is worth noting as it is a clear rules change.

In summary, SSI was not above making significant changes to the AD&D first edition rules in adapting them to the CRPG medium. Thus, slavish, contractually-mandated dedication to the ruleset cannot justify the broken state of the economy. While most of the changes above resulted in a better CRPG experience at best or a neutral result at worst, changes to rules regarding training, "Monty Haul" gaming, placement and prevalence of treasures, among others, conspired to create a series of games in which money becomes more of an encumbrance than an asset after the first hours of the first game. In the second part of this article, we'll look at the specific treasure-based factors that resulted in a Gold Box economy that fundamentally sucks.