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Let's Play: Pool of Radiance - the good one (NSF Scrollwheels)

RiemannLivesRiemannLives Registered User regular
edited November 2015 in Games and Technology
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Long ago, Strategic Simulations Inc - a well established game developer with a history of excellent wargames - won a fierce battle for the Dungeons and Dragons licence. The first game they developed using the licence launched their "Gold Box" series of games. Although not top of the line - it was a contemporary of Ultima 5 and Might and Magic 2 - it's graphics were considered pretty good in 1988, the game had a very impressive scope and of course it made good use of the D&D licence. It sold very well indeed and is still very playable for a game of its time (though only if you have a numpad!).

The game is set in the Moonsea region of Forgotten Realms which was a brand spanking new campaign setting at the time (having just been released the year before in 1987) and uses the AD&D 1st edition rules (2nd ed would be released the following year).

Good Old Games recently added several of the early SSI D&D games to their catalog and so I thought I'd play through this one again.

The graphics for the game are using the basic EGA mode of 320 x 200 with the standard 16 color palette. A lossless PNG screenshot of the game usually runs around 4-6KB. As such, I am going to spam the hell out of screenshots in this thread. In terms of filesize it shouldn't be a problem but expect lots of scrolling!

Games of this era still had to ship on media with extremely limited storage capacity. There was usually not room on the disk for a lot of text and so the game shipped with two manuals: one full of how to play (and interpret the rather arcane AD&D rules) and another full of plot background and journal entries. At various points in the game it would tell the player to read a given entry. The GoG version also comes with the Cluebook (originally sold separately) that has maps of each area as well as more information about what the spells and such in the game actually do.

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and so, Let's Play some Pool of Radiance!


this game actually looks pretty good for a pre-VGA game
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and the entire production team fits on a single 320x200 screen
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and here is cutting edge DRM from the late 1980s.
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The game shipped with a decoder wheel which is used a couple times in the game to "translate" either elvish or dwarven runes (it's just a 1:1 substitution cypher for english not a different language). It was also used as DRM in that you had to use the wheel to look up a word on game startup.
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Here is the party I created. Pool of Radiance didn't yet implement all of the AD&D classes (no Paladin, Druid, Assassin, Bard, Illusionist or Ranger). I set the stats of these characters such that I could swap out the first two with a Paladin and Ranger if I continue on to Curse of the Azure Bonds.

Note that I made extensive use of the "Modify" option in the main menu to set up their stats. Anyone claiming they didn't do so in a Gold Box game is lying to you. By default they use the old "3d6 for each stat, in order, no swapsies" method for stat generation. If you stick with that on average you have to roll up 36 complete characters to get a single stat of 18 (and of course you have no control of which stat that 18 is in). The odds of rolling a character that qualifies to be a Paladin are literally a thousand to one against (even worse for a monk or bard). Although those classes aren't included in Pool of Radiance even in this game you only have a bit better than 50/50 odds of qualifying to be a basic Fighter. This game, unlike some of the later Gold Box series, is brutally hard at the start even if you have great stats.

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This incredibly fortunate group has recently arrived in the ruins of the once great city of Phlan. A small community hangs on near the docks and is looking to reclaim the rest of the city. A kindly city clerk meets them at the pier and offers a tour of the inhabited portion of Plan.

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Attacked by tweeeeeeees!
RiemannLives on

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    RiemannLivesRiemannLives Registered User regular
    edited November 2015
    The tour complete, the party faces the gate leading into the ruins of Old Phlan. But now is not the time. We need equipment and perhaps some idea of what to look for in the ruins.

    A quick about-face leads back to the City Hall.
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    Where we meet another attempt to shave a few bytes off the file size. The proclamations referred to here are in the Adventurers Journal and read thusly (text stolen from the Gold Box Wiki cause hell if I want to type all that in):
    Be it known that the council is interested in acquiring information as to the disposition of various formerly-living entities rumored to be harassing honest citizens in the vicinity of Valhigen Graveyard. A reward is offered to any person who shall travel to said graveyard and return an eye-witness account.
    Be it known that the council is offering a reward to any person or persons who can provide information as to the disposition of several council agents who have been sent to investigate the unseemly happenings in the vicinity of Valhigen Graveyard.
    Be it known that the council is offering an inducement to any individual who shall serve in the rescue force for the mercenary band of Taimalg-the-Invincible which has disappeared inside Valhigen Graveyard.
    Be it known that the council is interested in reclaiming the remaining blocks of the city of New Phlan. To reclaim said blocks they must be first cleared of monsters, vermin, and other uncivilized inhabitants. To this end the council is offering a reward to any person or group who is responsible for clearing any block of the old city.

    hmm, most of those are way above our pay grade at the moment. Let's see if the clerk inside has anything else going on.
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    ok, that first one seems more doable: Go west, kill things. A fine band of murder-hobos are at your service good lady.

    RiemannLives on
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    RiemannLivesRiemannLives Registered User regular
    And now to spend that sweet sweet starting-character-money

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    Let's see what's available...
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    Oh Gygax you silly man. So many weapons. So little reason to use nearly all of them.

    We've just enough money to load up each character with a missile weapon, melee weapon and (if needed) a shield. Armor will have to wait.

    Ok, so on to the ruins!
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    Only to face a stark reminder that Pool of Radiance is a harsh Dungeon Master. The reason you have to manually pick up your change is that the game rigidly enforces limits on how much weight you can carry. And that includes coins. Late in the game we'll be leaving thousands of copper and silver coins behind as they are just too damn heavy to haul back to town.

    But in the meantime we leave the shop with exactly 3 platinum and 3 gold pieces.

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    RiemannLivesRiemannLives Registered User regular
    Into the ruins!

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    the layout of this part of the ruins is burned into my brainmeats so getting lost isn't an issue

    but a short ways in...
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    The goblins are easily dispatched, the Sleep spell is pretty much a weapon of mass destruction against low level creatures, but it is a hint of the hordes that lie ahead.

    Poking around the northeast ruins we run afoul of some orcs badly in need of a facial scrub.
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    and some more goblins
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    South of the goblins something odd turns up. A locked door that looks intact.
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    mickeyKmickeyK Registered User new member
    I disagree from experience that you need to modify starting character stats to clear the Slums. I just did it by taking whatever was first rolled and not rerolling or modifying at all. But I had experience from when the game was first released in 1988 and from about two weeks of casual testing. My party was two human fighters and one human cleric as tanks (low strength but half-decent HP), one human fighter as archer, one elf fighter-magic user as both archer and spellcaster, and one half-elf cleric-magic user as both healer and spellcaster. The fight against the multitude of goblin archers was a near thing, and for the ultimate difficult fight I needed two Heroes from the Hiring Hall in the front ranks, but it was totally doable with no primary ability score above 14 and maybe only one or two 16s where it made no difference.

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    AuralynxAuralynx Darkness is a perspective Watching the ego workRegistered User regular
    I no longer remember whether I modified my stats or not but I'm looking forward to you venturing into Sokal Keep.

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    OrogogusOrogogus San DiegoRegistered User regular
    The Gold Box games scale encounters to your attributes. The Mulmaster Beholder Corps in the second game can get pretty absurd.

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    RiemannLivesRiemannLives Registered User regular
    It's been a long while since I've posted an update here but not so long since I've played. I have been screenshotting as I go so let me see if I can bring the tale up to the present in a reasonable number of pics.

    We left off having just met a pink wizard named Ohlo in the ruins west of New Phlan. We continued to explore the ruins and do battle with the hordes of orcs, goblins and kobolbs that infested them.
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    A meager living was scraped out by selling piles of gently-used leather goods to one of the shopkeeps back in town. He's not the most crafty of negotiators because at one point:
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    A full grand for a set of 2nd-hand goblin wear! Something was amiss.
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    It seems the old man was running an identify-my-item scam. I'm not shelling out two hundo to identify some goblin's posing-pouch.
    Back in the ruins we reached a large open space towards the west edge of the area that used to be a marketplace.
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    A clue! Treasure awaits to the north. But along the way a boarded-up old shop seemed worth investigating. And once inside...
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    Ominous indeed. But murder-hobos heed not such warnings. After that many monsters were slain and the secret chamber in the northwest corner was looted. One notable encounter came a few days later when we broke into an orc lair.
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    The fight went poorly. Several orc gaurds we left standing. Everyone was dead except for the magic user who was out of spells. She finished off one of the wounded orcs with a thrown dart and that seemed to be just too much for the rest as they all immediately surrendered.
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    Since only surviving characters get a share of XP including for any treasure found (remember in old school AD&D you got 1 xp for every gold piece worth of loot and this usually far exceeded any xp from actually killing monsters), Shiev got enough out of that fight to end up a full level ahead of everyone else. Though that did lead to something of a financial crisis as one of the other things about old school AD&D is it cost a lot to level up (a full grand!)
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    After a few more trips to the ruins and back...
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    the entire area was cleared of monsters except for one remaining group in the Old Rope Guild. Along the way we picked up that potion for the Pink Wizard Ohlo.
    The final battle in the Old Rope Guild was with a couple ogres and a foe we had not met before: Trolls. They regenerate damage every round, hit extremely hard and will actually get back up at full HP a few rounds after being struck down if you don't end the fight before then. Or, as it turns out, if one of your character happens to be standing on the square where they died.
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    It took a couple tries but eventually the battle was won. Mostly by remembering where each troll fell and making sure a character stayed sitting on them for the rest of the fight. The city clerk was well pleased.
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    RiemannLivesRiemannLives Registered User regular
    Success in the western slums prompted the city clerk to let us in on a new mission.
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    Podal Plaza lies some distance beyond the slums past an area known as Kuto's Well. The ruins around the well were a bit different from the crowded and twisting slums. It was mostly one large open area around the well in the middle with a few small buildings around the edges. There were only two significant encounters in the area. First off, right near the entrance from the slums we ran afoul of some lizard men.
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    Behind them was a locked door that we forced open to reveal another strange fortune teller.
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    If videogames have taught me anything it's that there is always something to be found at the bottom of wells. And that wisdom did not steer me wrong.
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    Down below was the entrance to what appeared to be a kobolb lair. But we soon ran into the man in charge.
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    In his pocket was a note referenced in the game journal.
    An official looking notice.

    "Assemble a group of at least 30 of your followers. Meet up with a
    hobgoblin assault force at the small docks to the west of town. You and
    your group will be under the command of the hobgoblin leader. Follow his
    orders. Upon completion of the mission you will be rewarded with food,
    treasure, and many slaves."

    Signed,
    The Boss

    Scribbled on the back of these orders is Norris the Gray's unsent reply
    to The Boss

    "I will never follow the orders of a hobgoblin. I don't go on missions
    until I know exactly what we're supposed to do. And I don't go on missions
    for an unknown amount of food, treasure and slaves'. I do go on missions
    where I am in command; where I know exactly what the target is; and where I
    know exactly how much I'll get paid. Don't send me another order until you
    can meet my terms."

    Signed,
    Norris the Gray
    Back in town the clerk was again pleased with these developments.
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    There was also a new proclamation outside the city hall:
    Be it known that the council, knowing that commerce is the life's blood
    of New Phlan, has decreed that Sokal Keep is to be cleared of all unlawful
    inhabitants. A reward is offered to the person or persons who successfully
    carry out this commission. All interested in applying for said commission
    shall present themselves to the clerk of the council.

    Podal Plaza was going to have to wait. Sokal Keep had to be cleared out.

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    RiemannLivesRiemannLives Registered User regular
    Sokal Keep was our first encounter with the Undead. There would be death and battle soon enough but it began with a simple boat:
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    The outer courtyard of the ruined keep was overgrown with tall grass. In one corner we found an important clue:
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    Aha! A chance to use our super secret decoder wheel at last! The elvish runes read
    LUX
    SHESTNI
    SAMOSUD
    The meaning of which was not obvious at the time.
    Beyond the broken gates was an inner courtyard crawling with armed skeletons and zombies.
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    Searching through the outbuildings around the courtyard we ran afoul of giant scorpions,
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    strangely aggressive frogs
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    and a ghost!
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    It did not attack immediately and instead waited for us to say a password. We took a chance on the first of the three strange words from the note in the courtyard "LUX" which seemed to work. The shade told us something of what cursed Sokal Keep.
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    They also showed us a hidden cache of gems and a book:
    An old leather-bound book, written with a small, firm hand.

    "The hordes came again last night. Their coordination was frightening.
    Under the cover of darkness, goblins and kobolds pushed bundles of sticks
    to within bow range. These bundles formed a wall that protected the small
    ones from our archers. Once the wall was erected orc archers took up safe
    positions there and begin pelting the castle walls with arrows.

    "We tried shooting flaming arrows at the wall of sticks to set it afire.
    Monsters are normally afraid of fire. But these monsters showed no fear.
    They simply scooped dirt on the flames to put them out. Before all the
    fires were out they had resumed firing at us. Surely, some unnatural force
    must have been at work to weld these quarlsome beasts into an organized
    fighting force.

    "I do not know if we can combat the monsters onslaught much longer. We
    lost 12 more men last night. The monsters seem to have an unlimited number
    of reinforcements. The Last Priest of Tyr, Ferran Martinez, says he has a
    way to protect the keep, but he says that it's so terrible that it may only
    be used as a last resort. Unless we receive reinforcements shortly, Ferran
    Martinez is our only hope."
    In the eastern outbuildings we discovered a secret passage behind a magical illusion. There was an impressive stash of treasure to be had including magical weapons and armor. We brought these back to town to be appraised and to heal up before tackling the central chapel. Upon returning to Sokal Keep we found that the chapel was held by a large force of orcs and hobgoblins. But as we were well rested and armed they were soon dispatched. In front of the altar was the ghost of the last priest, Ferran Martinez. He was eager for news of the present state of Phlan and in turn had some interesting hints about the Pool which drives our enemies.
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    Back in town the clerk had more than just a reward for clearing Sokal Keep
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    It seems we are moving up in the world.
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    I'm calling it now. That guy is evil. Don't know how. But no character with that stache could be anything else.

    So it seems there is a choice of where to go next: into Mendor's Library in hopes of learning more of the Pool of Radiance or continue on to Podal Plaza and perhaps on to the Textile House beyond.

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    ElvenshaeElvenshae Registered User regular
    I love this series so much, though I think the only one I've ever beaten more than once was Secret of the Silver Blades, and I've never made it all the way through Pools of Darkness.

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    EmperorSethEmperorSeth Registered User regular
    God, This Game. This was one of the big games we got for our brand new, super-advanced Commodore 64 (heh) back when I was a kid. My dad and I played the crap out of it. It was pretty much my entry point for all things D&D, from Dragon magazine to the tabletop game itself (which, initially, I refused to believe was anything but a video game.)

    But I'm not seeing it on Gog anymore? Is it gone, or am I just bad at navigating their site?

    You know what? Nanowrimo's cancelled on account of the world is stupid.
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    ElvenshaeElvenshae Registered User regular
    God, This Game. This was one of the big games we got for our brand new, super-advanced Commodore 64 (heh) back when I was a kid. My dad and I played the crap out of it. It was pretty much my entry point for all things D&D, from Dragon magazine to the tabletop game itself (which, initially, I refused to believe was anything but a video game.)

    But I'm not seeing it on Gog anymore? Is it gone, or am I just bad at navigating their site?

    @EmperorSeth

    https://www.gog.com/game/forgotten_realms_the_archives_collection_two

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    EmperorSethEmperorSeth Registered User regular
    Thanks! I'm now the proud (re) owner of a lot of old games!

    But damn, I forgot how bad the UI was on this one. I wasn't expecting mouse support or anything, but selecting things with the arrow keys doesn't even work. Also, I'm royally getting my ass kicked by goblins at this point. I also forgot how your hired help NPCs turn and run at the slightest hint of a threat.

    You know what? Nanowrimo's cancelled on account of the world is stupid.
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    JarsJars Registered User regular
    I played through pool of radiance... I have to admit the grayscale graphics looked much better than the color ones. you probably can't get that version though, right?

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    RiemannLivesRiemannLives Registered User regular
    edited November 2015
    Thanks! I'm now the proud (re) owner of a lot of old games!

    But damn, I forgot how bad the UI was on this one. I wasn't expecting mouse support or anything, but selecting things with the arrow keys doesn't even work. Also, I'm royally getting my ass kicked by goblins at this point. I also forgot how your hired help NPCs turn and run at the slightest hint of a threat.

    Yeah, the UI for the game assumes you don't have a mouse but do have a full size keyboard with numpad. The GoG version has a PDF of the Quick Reference Card that came with the game and that comes in handy. The Home and End keys (7 and 1 on a numpad) are what move up and down in lists and PgUp and PgDown (9 and 3 on a numpad) move up and down in lists a page at a time. It actually works well if you have a numpad. All of the controls are there.

    edit: I do find the game plays better when I speed up DOSBOX a little more than the default Good Old Games setup. CTRL+F12 to increase the speed of the emulated CPU. I find 8000 cycles works well for Pool of Radiance.

    RiemannLives on
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    RiemannLivesRiemannLives Registered User regular
    Jars wrote: »
    I played through pool of radiance... I have to admit the grayscale graphics looked much better than the color ones. you probably can't get that version though, right?

    I see options for CGA (4 color: white, black, cyan and pink), EGA (what I'm using) and Tandy (pretty much the same as EGA)

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    ShadowfireShadowfire Vermont, in the middle of nowhereRegistered User regular
    I remember one of these I had a hard time with... might have been Azure Bonds? I remember getting into tavern brawls and my whole party dying.

    WiiU: Windrunner ; Guild Wars 2: Shadowfire.3940 ; PSN: Bradcopter
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    BigityBigity Lubbock, TXRegistered User regular
    The Dragonlance ones were brutal too. I really liked the Dark Sun ones as well.

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