D&D General Demetrios1453 Plays the Gold Box Games

Our intretpid adventurers step foot into the dangerous slums of the fallen city of Phlan

Welcome to my Let's Play thread, where I play the SSI D&D Gold Box games! I'll be documenting a play-through of at least the four "Pools" series games set in the Forgotten Realms, and potentially, the three Dragonlance games afterwards.

I'll be using this opening post for links to later posts, so as to make things easier to follow.

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Introduction (Part 1): What are the Gold Box games?

A selection of covers for the Gold Box games

The Gold Box games are a series of CRPGs produced by Strategic Simulations Inc (SSI) using the D&D ruleset, under license from TSR, produced from 1988 through 1992. The informal nickname of "Gold Box" comes, pretty obviously, from their gold-colored covers, in contrast to other SSI D&D games, which were sold with boxes of different coloring (for example, the "Black Box" games of the Eye of the Beholder series). The Gold Box games all shared the same engine which set them apart from the other SSI D&D games, with exploration done in a first-person point of view, and then switching to a top-down third-person POV once combat started. This is in contrast to other SSI games, which stayed in either first-person or third-person views during game play. So exploration looked like this (using the default party included in the game):

Exploration view

and combat looked like this:

Combat view

This switching between the two POVs allowed both these pillars (Exploration and Combat) to be done smoothy and pretty intuitively. Combat, especially, was very similar to the table-top version, being turned-based and very like play using miniatures. In fact, it's closer in many ways than a lot of later D&D games that used real-time-with-pause gameplay, which in many ways alters (often for the worse) tactical play in combat. Here, for example, once you know exactly how big an area a fireball takes up, you can strategize and ensure you get the maximum number of enemies, and avoid, as much as possible, friendly fire on your own group.

The game consists of you controlling a party of up to six PCs (and using all six slots are recommended!), and maybe an NPC or two who are currently part of your group. With them, you do your typical D&D stuff - explore locations, fight foes, and gain treasure and loot. You gain experience by doing so, level up, and gain new powers.

The games use the original, 1e AD&D ruleset, with a few minor differences as the series started around the time the game was transitioning to the 2e ruleset. And it translated them over pretty remarkably well, given the limitations that CRPGs faced in 1988. You can play with most of the PHB races, play many of the PHB classes (although there are some significant absences), have a very wide set of spells to choose from, and fight a noticeably varied number of monsters and foes (the recent threads here about D&D's "core monsters" overlaps very closely to what you can fight in these games, with very few notable absences such as mind flayers).

The "core" Gold Box games were:

A set of four games set in the Moonsea and Dalelands region of the Forgotten Realms: Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, and Pools of Darkness (commonly referred to as the "Pools" games, and the series I'm starting the play through with)​
A set of three games set in the Dragonlance setting: Champions of Krynn, Death Knights of Krynn, and Dark Queen of Krynn.​
A set of two games set in the Savage Frontier region of the Forgotten Realms: Gateway to the Savage Frontier and Treasures of the Savage Frontier.

Each of the sets would allow transferring of characters from one game to the next, allowing a single party to go from level 1 (for Pool of Radiance - Champions of Krynn and Gateway to the Savage Frontier start you with some XP, so some characters might be level 2 or 3 at start in the latter two) all the way to potentially level 40 (although the Savage Frontier series ended before that point, letting you get only to level 12 or so).

The Gold Box games also included a game-builder called Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures, which allowed people to create their own games using the engine, and two Buck Rogers games because the TSR president at the time, Lorraine Williams, owned the Buck Rogers IP and pushed it whenever possible. Since these three aren't D&D games as such, we won't be dealing with them here.

The games were very popular in their day, but advances in computer technology soon made them pretty obsolete (as you can tell by the screenshots above), and thus they were basically abandonware for quite awhile. GOG was able to gather them and their rights, and sold them off their site for years. More recently, Steam gained the right to sell them, and they can now be purchased through them. The games come with PDFs of the in-box booklets, usually a manual and a journal, as well as a representation of the copy protection codewheel, which had two wheels of Dethek and Espruar glyphs that you used to answer copy protection questions. Thankfully, the current games just skip that step, and you can hit Enter to continue when copy protection questions come up.


Also included are the PDFs for the cluebooks for each game, which were sold separately at the time. Given just how fiendishly difficult exploration could be, and how hard it was to find certain treasures and encounters, the cluebooks sold very well! And beyond all of these, the Steam versions also include a version of a fan-made UI and editing tool called Gold Box Companion, which will be the subject of my next post.
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Introduction (Part 2): Gold Box Companion

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Gold Box Companion (GBC) is a fan made UI and editing tool for the Gold Box games (their website can be found here). A version of it is packaged with the Steam version of the games. As you can see from the screenshot above, it adds an auto-mapping tool (on the right), and an additional UI screen (on top), showing the various character icons with more modern health bars, as well as listing any special statuses above the icons. Less conspicuous (because all the characters have like 10 XP at this point), but still there, is a narrow bar between the icons and the health bars showing XP advancement towards the next level. Given that 1e D&D didn't have the same XP level advancement for each class, this is really helpful, since otherwise you would otherwise have to be continually checking the reference material to see how close a character is to gaining a level, and, indeed, whether a character actually has enough to gain a level (later games in the series would indicate a level gain by turning the character's name magenta instead of the typical cyan here, but that's far off in the future at this point).

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During combat, the map will change to show the characters and foes in whatever position they are in, as well as hit points and whether someone (friend or foe) is incapacitated. This is all stuff you can find in-game by highlighting characters or foes (as for Thrender here, for example), but it's a lot simpler, obviously, to have all the info visible right there. Also, the map will expand to show the entire combat, which may very well extend beyond the window in the actual game itself. It's terribly annoying to have to move the cursor all over in an attempt to hunt down a foe that fled off in some random direction while you were busy taking down the ones that remained; with the GBC map, they'll still be visible no matter how far they've fled.

Mousing over the top bar with the character icons will cause it to change as well, revealing further tools

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Some of these are just simple quality-of-life options, while others are cheats varying from light to substantial. The first three in the bottom row are just links to the journal and manual which would have come with the game anyway (the difference between "Journal" and "Journal PDF" is that the first just takes you to a list of journal entries and nothing more, while the second takes you to a PDF of the full journal book, which included a lot more than the journal entries themselves). "Code Wheel" allows you to actually do the copy protection if you so wish (why anyone would when you don't need to is beyond me). "Switch Font" allows you to change between various fonts used in the games - since the Pools of Radiance font is very... baroque... and hard to read, I've already switched it out for the font used in much later games (you'll see the original font in some of the early screenshots in the next post as the game starts). "Map Docking" just moves the map to whichever side you want it. "Encamp - Fix" allows you to use the "Fix" function in PoR (where you can bulk cast and re-learn healing spells while encamped, instead of going through the menus manually to cast them one at a time and then re-learn them one at a time); this is available in every other game, so it's just a retroactive quality of life change. "Store Spells" and "Restore Spells" are similar to this - some earlier games didn't keep track of the list of spells you typically memorize, and you had to go through and click "memorize" on each of them one at a time before each rest, so this gives you the option to have a specified spell list in the earlier games.

The remaining items in the list are... well light cheats. Starting with "Auto ID", the games usually force you to go back to a store to have the storekeep ID magical items for you for, usually, 200 gp (identify is not an available spell in the games); toggling this on will allow you to ID an item as soon as you pick it up and put it in your inventory (but not before, when just viewing a list of the treasure just found/acquired). "Auto-Ammo", when toggled on, will give you an endless supply of ammunition so you don't have to collect unused arrows or buy bunches in stores. "Fix Drain" allows the fixing of undead level drains while resting without restoration spells. "Cluebook PDF" allows you access to a PDF of the cluebook for whatever game you're playing. "Level Up" (which is grayed out due to no one currently having enough XP to be able to level up) will allow the leveling of characters immediately upon gaining enough XP, instead of having to go to a training hall.

When it comes to these, I don't use Auto-Ammo (mainly because ammo is cheap and plentiful in the game, and going to stores to buy it has the additional bonus of allowing you to consolidate your various cash types to simpler gold and platinum), nor Fix Drain (as the games usually give you plenty of restoration scrolls when you're about to go into an area heavily infested with level-draining undead). However, I do use the Auto-ID, since it's a pain to have to drag potentially exciting items back to stores just to know what they are. Using the Cluebook PDF would be cheating, but I've played these enough times that I pretty much know where everything is anyway lol. And I definitely use the "Level Up"option, especially since there are times in the games where it's either detrimental or actually impossible to get to a training hall before gaining enough XP to gain another level (which causes you to lose a lot of excess XP when you actually do level up), as well as other reasons I'll mention in later.

This is the version of GBC that comes with the game. But... if you go to the GBC website (linked above), you can find a few more bells and whistles that you can download (which I have).

First, they have an optional download that allows you to play paladins and rangers in PoR by changing fighters to those classes. As PoR is the only game that lacks these classes, and if you want to have the same party go through all four games that would include characters of either one or both of these classes (which I do), this is obviously a great quality of life option to download and install (this is one of the reasons I'll be using the "Level Up" tool as mentioned above, as such altered characters won't be able to level up using a training hall in PoR). Secondly, they have a few options available on the top bar that they've always had on their version, but weren't ported over the the Steam version, and which show up in the previously empty slots:

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"Explore Map" does just that - it reveals the entire map in the map window (with the cluebooks available, this is pretty meaningless). "Editor", however is much more interesting...

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As you can see, this pulls up a full-on editor for the game. You can go hog-wild here - give everyone max stats of 25, give them the max possible 255 hit points (yay for early PC underflow errors!), equip them with all the cool items in the game, and so on. I will, admittedly, be using it, but very sparingly, and mainly to counteract actual bugs in the games. For example, for some unknown reason, battleaxes go from 1-handed to 2-handed in a couple of the later games such as PoD and DQoK (which makes my dwarf characters very unhappy), so I will be able to adjust that here. Also, PoR calculates multi-classed characters' hit points incorrectly, which will be corrected here as well. I'll be using it for a couple of other things which I'll mention as we get to them.

Finally, there's a version of the editor that allows music to be played ingame, and has a link to two files filed with appropriate, if simple and somewhat generic, music. This may seem minor, but it does beat nothing but silence interrupted by periodic combat sounds.

Anyway, I've probably bored you all to death with all this preliminary stuff, let's load up the game and make some characters!
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Pool of Radiance (Part 1): Character Creation

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This is cover of the Pool of Radiance journal book, probably among the first things you would have seen upon opening the box. It sets up the game nicely: the city of Phlan (which is on the northern shore of the Moonsea in the north-central Forgotten Realms) is looking for adventurers to clear the areas of their city that have been overrun by monsters. It's up to your brave characters to help them succeed in this!

Well, let's load up the game!

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Uh oh, copy protection! But, where once we would have had to pull out the wheel and match up the two glyphs to find what word to enter, we can happily just hit Enter now and continue.

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Well, our only real choice here is Create New Character (unless we want to exit the game for some reason). By the way, navigation is by hitting the key of the highlighted letter (so "C" here) or by, weirdly, hitting the "7" and "1" keys on the keypad to go up or down and then hitting Enter (The typical "up", "down", "left", and "right" keys are used for actual in-game navigation while exploring or moving the cursor, so I'm not sure why they aren't used here). So, let's create a character (I'm going to create an example character here and not one of the characters that will actually be played).

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Here's our choice of races, which are your typical standard D&D choices. At the time (late 1e), half-orcs would have technically been standard as well, but as we're on the cusp of 2e at this point, they were being quietly moved to the background as an extension of the entire "Satanic Panic" situation, and thus aren't an option here (which is also why fiends are all but absent in the games, and assassins aren't available, as we will see on the next screen, as a class choice).

Races were quite different back at this point. Most notably, everyone other than humans had level limits in all classes other than thief (the current rogue), and they were usually very, very low - the only limit to break into double digits was 11th level magic-user for elves. At the time, while we understood Gygax's logic for this, everyone I knew hated this and basically disregarded the limits (even the 2e limits which were a bit higher). So basically, if you're playing the base game, it's useless here to make a non-human other than for your thief if you plan to continue the party beyond this game. But... we're not playing the base game. We have GBC, and remember when I said that I'd give you further reasons I'd be using the "Level Up" button? Well, using it allows you circumvent the ridiculous 1e level limits for non-humans. So, we're free to choose whatever race we may want for our characters (other than gnomes, for which the next screen will give us our reason), and they'll happily continue leveling in all the games! But for simplicity's sake, I'm choosing Human and going on.

The next screen just has the choice of Male or Female, so I didn't bother to take a screenshot. But for gameplay purposes, it does make a difference. Firstly, in Curse of the Azure Bonds, there are some options that are only available if you have a female in the party. Secondly, and more importantly, back in 1e, females weren't allowed to have as high a Strength stat as males (the same goes for non-humans as well). This was obviously quite sexist, and was done away with in 2e and later editions (and 2e was already in development by the time this game was released). However, having the editor tool does allow us to get around such dumb Strength restrictions if we want...

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Next comes our class choices, which are... not extensive. Since I chose Human for my race, I just have the basic classes. If I chose a non-human race, we would be seeing quite a different screen. Besides half-elves, none of the other races would have all four classes listed here, and they would all have various multi-class options. You see, in those far-off pre-3e days, advancing in multiple classes was done quite differently. If a human wanted to take up a second class, they would have to "dual-class" - level up in one class then choose a second, and while leveling up in that second class they would have no access to the abilities of the first until they've surpassed it in level with the second. This can actually be done in the Gold Box games, but it's really tedious (as it was in real life - in all the years I played in 1e and 2e, there's only a single instance that I played in a group where a human dual-class was successfully pulled off); I've done it for ranger/magic-user dual classes in the games, but it's not worth the effort unless you really want to. In comparison, non-humans had the option to "multi-class"; but unlike multiclassing of today, the character would level both (or, in some cases for half-elves, all three) classes simultaneously, dividing XP between the classes. This balances out somewhat because while having the abilities of two (or three) classes is powerful, the character is continually behind single-classed characters in level. But, on the whole, it tends to be a bit better, so the group I'll be making will have several multi-classed characters. (As a note, not all possible combinations were available in 1e for multi-classing; characters have to choose from a list of allowed options). Beyond all this, paladins and rangers are not available in PoR, as they will be in later games (this will be rectified, as I said before, by using the option to make them via the download from the GBC website). And, obviously, not all 1e classes are available to play - no druids, bards (which would have been insanely difficult to implement, given the path you had to take to make one), and so on. And this is why I said before that gnomes are a useless choice to pick - the illusionist class is not available, which was their main draw in 1e. And the games don't even allow you to substitute for magic-users either - so gnomes are stuck, pretty much uselessly, with only fighter, thief, and fighter/thief as choices.

Anyway, I choose Fighter here and go to the next screen.

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Your typical list of alignments, that we're all familiar with. Certain alignments won't be available for certain classes (thieves can't be LG for example), but there's little effect in actual game play (at least in the FR games - in the DL games, alignment does result in having some, but still few, in-game choices). I'll point out when something alignment-based occurs in the game, which will be about twice.

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Finally, we get to the actual character. Choosing "No" means that the stats, the amount of gold, and the hit points are all randomly re-rolled. But in actuality, as I'll explain in a moment, we're really just re-rolling for the gold amount here. Knowing from experience that 140 gold is actually pretty good, there's no need for me to keep rolling, and I'll keep this character. (For those of you who don't know what makes up for a good gold amount, you can just keep re-rolling a few times until what is a high amount of gold becomes obvious).

For someone familiar with 5e D&D, this character sheet will look pretty familiar, but a few things are completely different. One oddity is that his AC is 6, even though the character has an 18 Dex; this is because 1e and 2e AC counted down from 10 instead of counting upward (once I have equipped my characters, some will already have ACs below 0, and by the late games characters are routinely well below -10). But the main thing that sticks out is good ol' THAC0, short for "To Hit Armor Class 0". This is the number that had to be rolled to hit AC 0 (roughly AC 20 these days) - so because AC went down instead of up, counterintuitively, the lower the THAC0, the better. It's basically a 5e character's bonus to hit, turned upside down. So this will go down as characters gain levels and magic items (and have a higher Strength score - this guy's 14 isn't enough to get him a bonus to hit in 1e rules), until, in later games, it's routinely well below 0.

Having chosen to keep the character, I name him "Example".

Next, we have the ability to change the portrait in the upper right. Oddly, this portrait is only in PoR, and not something they continued in later games. You can choose between about a dozen heads and bodies, mixing and matching as you wish. I'm fine with the one we have, so I'll leave it unchanged. The real issue is that once you save here, you can't go back and change the portrait, and you're stuck with whatever you kept for the rest of the game. This is fine if you like what you chose, but if you hit "Keep" at the wrong time, or purposely chose something for cheap giggles like this:
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..or this:
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..,you're stuck with Matilda's hairy chest for the rest of the game.

Now we get to make our icon for the combat portions of the game (and the one that shows in the top bar in GBC)

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"Parts" determines your head (hair style, facial hair, and some random helmets that look awful, in my opinion) and weapon of choice, "Color-1" and "Color-2" determine the colors of various body parts; Color-1 Arm changes the color of the top of the arm, for example, while Color-2 Arm changes the bottom color. Or vice-versa. I can never remember which one is which lol. "Size" makes the icon short or medium-sized.

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Here we are about halfway through the process with one of the "Color" menus visible.

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And here's our final product.

Interestingly, I've seen plenty of other Let's Plays for the Gold Box games, and people seem to (and sometimes outright say) that they have difficulty with coming up with decent icons, oftentimes just leaving the default colors and only changing the weapons, which looks like to me at least that it would be very confusing during combat. I've determined, after long years of play, that in order to make unique, distinctive icons for your characters, you need to stick with one or two complimentary colors for each, keeping the Color-1 and Color-2 the same for the same body parts in most cases (as I did here with the arm, leg, and body), and then use a different color or colors for each character (even with the very minimal number of colors available, with six characters, it's still easy to find distinctive color set for each). As you'll see here shortly, my characters are pretty distinctive and not hard at all to figure out which is which during battle.

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Icon done, the character appears in the available character list (Bran here is a seventh character I created for my actual game). Choosing "Add" puts an asterisk by their name and gives you a "Yes"/"No" on if you want to add them to your game. Clicking "Yes" takes us to the actual party screen with the character added.

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This screen (usually with more characters on it!) is the one you'll see a lot when loading games (where you'll hit "Begin Adventuring") as well as on other occasions. Right now, we're interested in the "Modify Character" option, which will only be available in the menu before we start the actual game. Remember when I said there was no reason to roll for anything other than a good amount of gold earlier? Well, now it's time to show why!

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See how the 14 in STR is now in magenta? That means we can change it! In fact we can change all the stats, as well as the starting hit points! But not the starting gold, which is why we fished for a good number earlier. So... a short time later:

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"But that's cheating!!!!!" I hear from the audience. "You've changed all your stats, and hit points, to the max possible!" To which the answer is, "Well, yes it is, but in another way, no it isn't!" You see, this option was officially put in the game so you could play with your pencil-and-paper character by adjusting the stats to match. But... they knew very well that everyone would be using it to pump up their stats, so they did something very cunning: they made it so that random encounters scale on party strength, based mostly on stats. So by doing this, I'm in some ways actually making the game harder. And in later games, they based the actual, non-random encounters on the fact that everyone would be maxing out their stats. If you go into some fights in, say Pools of Darkness or Dark Queen of Krynn, having not done this, your group is going to be, repeatedly, eaten alive by the toughness of the encounters.

Some may now also be wondering what that (00) after the 18 Strength might be. Back in those far-off pre-3e days, characters with warrior classes (fighter, ranger, paladin) could roll a percentile dice if they had an 18 Strength, which gave them greater chances to hit and damage based on the percentage. 18 (00) is actually 18 (100) and the best possible, giving a +3 to hit and +6 to damage (as is indicated by the THAC0 going down by 3 and the damage up by +6); pre-3e was not nicely symmetrical with hit and damage as were later editions.

So, our example character has been created and is ready for adventure! In the next post, we'll meet our actual adventuring group, on its way to Phlan to begin the game!
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POOL OF RADIANCE (PART 2): Our intrepid band of adventurers!

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And their icons:

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(Yeah, it's goofy giving them names all starting with "B", but I've used most of these characters for, well, decades, so blame much younger me)

Character stats are all maxed out as per the previous post. Females and non-humans are given 18 (00) STR since 1e rules on that were sexist and species-ist, and were corrected in 2e rules that were about to come out anyway. Some of the non-humans have some stats slightly adjusted for the same reason, as some of the 1e maxes were illogical and the game reflected it. Why does the game allow elves to have 18 CON when they have a -1 to CON? Why can't halflings go to 19 DEX when they get a +1 DEX, but can go to 19 CON when they have no bonus to that stat? It's all very random and arbitrary, so everyone is at 18, adjusted for racial bonuses and negatives for stats. Also, as I said previously, POR does not calculate mutli-class hit points correctly (basically keeping them at +2 for the fighter half of the character when it should be +3 (elves) or +4 (everyone else) for that half when determining hit points), so that was adjusted as well.

And as I mentioned before, you can actually play with more than six characters. As you saw last post, there's a seventh character that could have been added via the editor. The game has room for up to 8 characters, which is usually the 6 characters and potentially one or two NPCs. It's not hard to add the seventh charcter (by the way, he's another fighter/cleric, which is very helpful for healing and turning undead in PoR, but less imporant as the games go on), but he would have to be removed any time there are two NPCs (which is not often, but enough that it would be annoying). I've played with both seven and eight actual characters (removing the eighth character when a single NPC is joining the party is quite annoying, as it happens fairly frequently), but the loss in shared XP is actaully very noticeable. And anyway, I'm modding the game enough as it is.

So, characters created and introduced, onward to Phlan!
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Reeks of Jedi
I really want to play these but I just dont have the time or will to deal with something that old school. Like BG1 is as far back as I will go (for D&D video games, Ill go play Final Fantasy 1 or Zelda 1 etc any time though.)

I did play and beat the old Menzoberranzan video game. Started the Ravenloft one but bailed out at some point.

POOL OF RADIANCE (Part 3): Welcome to Phlan!

We start with a brief shot of the pier we have landed on (so brief I didn't get a screenshot of it), and then we are approached by this fellow:

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So we follow Rolf around the city:

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Tyr and Tempus make sense here; we're in a city where evil is fighting to destroy what remains of the city. Sune, though? It's not a particularly obvious place for the goddess of love and beauty to have a temple, is it? Maybe Phlan, before it was overrun by monsters, was filled with art and they're here to help reclaim what can be salvaged? The city was renowned for its library, as we will see, but that's more in Oghma's wheelhouse than Sune. It's basically left unexplained why this temple is here.

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I've always thought that parenthetical "(You are on your own now)" to be pretty funny. Like players were just going to endlessly stare at that gate waiting for something exciting to happen.

Anyway, tour over, time to start doing things. First things first, we'll turn around and go back to the city hall to pick up our first quests.

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Well, commissions are what we came here for!

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Although these proclamations look to be important, they really aren't. The City Clerk will be giving out quests that cover basically all the scenarios covered in these proclamations. They do change over time, and if you really want to read up on them, they have a chapter of their own in the journal book:

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Basically, there are problems in the Valhigen Graveyard. We'll be getting to that... eventually. In the meantime, let's go inside and talk to the City Clerk.

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The funny thing is, the guards "watch you closely" even after you've completed a lot of quests. In fact, they do so even after you've saved the city and won the game.

The City Clerk's door is the one on the left. Let's go in.

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1988 graphics aren't particularly flattering to her. She looks much less blocky and exhausted when we meet her in later games, where we find out her name is Sasha. Also, obviously, we aren't due a reward since we haven't done anything yet. So she has a choice of several commissions for us:

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The Clerk always offers three commissions (except at the end of the game when she starts running out of them), and the secret here is always to do the first one she offers - that's the one that's most likely best tuned to your level. Once you've done it and claimed your reward, it disappears from her list, the other two move up, and new one will be added as the third option. So, looks like it's time to clear the Slums!

All this done, it's time to go shopping! We can't go wandering in the Slums in naught but our skins, Mr Frodo!

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Down the street to the east of the Town Hall we go, into the shop district! Where all the shops are one of three types that all carry the same three inventories! The one in the picture (on the left) is the one I always go to since it's right next to the inn and the town hall.

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Why yes sir! Show us what limited inventory you have in what appears, from the map, to be a tiny shop!

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Sigh. Gary and his polearm fetish. (As a side note, Battleaxe is at the top of the page, but doesn't show until you start scrolling for some reason)

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Well, at least there are long swords here. But wait, there's still more!

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So, yeah, three pages with a lot of useless items no one will ever buy. We'll just have to trawl through all the unusable stuff when buying what we need. First, we'll go back a couple of screens and pool our money. This makes things a lot simpler when purchasing things, and also has the added benefit of rounding your funds off to just gold and platinum (not a problem now, but when we're dragging in hundreds of copper and silver, it's a relief to our encumbrance. I've never looked to see if I'm getting ripped off with the rounding, but at that point I don't care!)

We have 850 gold all pooled together. So what to buy?

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So here's what we have purchased for Baroness Bella. We can't afford plate, but... in these games non-magical plate is a trap anyway, as it reduces your movement to just 6 (12 is normal movement, 9 is movement with most armor, and 6 with plate and splint), which is terrible during battle. Only wear plate if it's magical, since it's has a much better movement rate of 9.

Why not go two-handed instead of weapon and shield? Again, it's a bit of a trap, although not as much in this game as later games, when higher-level magical shields become available. AC is very important in these games, much more so than in 5e, and losing the AC benefits of a magical shield hurts a lot in later games. I've tried running a character with a two-handed weapon in the Pools series, and in later games they just get mauled and lose lots of HP each combat. (This isn't so bad in the Krynn games, where a Knight of Solamnia can gain access to Solamnic Plate, which not only has a significantly better AC than regular plate, it is non-magical to boot, so it works with rings of protection and the like, and thus it's viable to run a two-handed weapon character - which with dragonlances involved is a good thing!)

To equip our items, we just select "Ready" for each of them, the "No" turns into "Yes", and they're equipped!

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That looks much better!

We do the same for Bant, but give him a battleaxe instead of a longsword, which is a slight nerf, since battleaxes don't do as much damage against large creatures as longswords. Oh, did I mention that 1e weapons did differing damage for large creatures? Well, they did, although since most creatures you'll fight are medium, it's not too huge a deal. Anyway, Brother Baltor gets the same as well, but with a flail instead of a sword because he's a cleric, as clerics were restricted to blunt weapons in 1e (although in these games, because he's multiclassed he could actually use a sword, but I'll keep it as a flail for flavor as well as to not let all the magical cleric weapons in these games go to waste)

Buffy, as a thief, does get a longsword as well, but since her thief abilities, especially backstabbing (the old version of sneak attacks), are reduced or outright impossible with heavier armors and shields, she only gets leather armor. But, since she and the two fighter/magic-users are in my back row, I'll equip them with longbows (I'd buy them my front-liners as well, but I don't have the money to do so now, which is the same reason I'm not buying characters composite longbows with the better range). But arrows only come in stacks of 10, and we have a relatively limited amount of inventory slots:

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But see that "Join" option? We click on that and all our arrows are now grouped together!

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("Halve" will split the highlighted item, which is useful if one of your other characters is running out of ammo and there's no store nearby).

Bows are somewhat broken in low levels in 1e, since characters get 2 bow attacks per round, unlike most other weapons that get just 1 attack at this point. Warrior classes will eventually get more attacks per round, but don't reach 2 until they're in the teen levels. So my backliners equipped with bows are going to do some pretty impressive damage. And, as we'll soon see, they have the potential to really do some damage with certain bows in the future. The only real issue is if a foe gets within melee range of them, which will disallow bow use and force them to use melee weapons.

My two fighter/magic-users will also get bows. But... now's the time for a bit of a surprise. I'm also equipping them with banded mail as well! But... magic-users... armor? Well, see, they're elf fighter/magic-users, and in 1e, elves could cast spells while wearing some types of armor (notably elven chain). I assume the makers of the game just didn't care about or didn't want to put the extra work in concerning which types of armor were allowed, so they just threw them all in. So I'm going to have some the best protected spellcasters ever as a result. (I'm not equipping them with shields since they'll usually be equipped with bows, and since you have to go into the inventory and manually swap out equipment, it's less tedious the less you have to swap out. For the same reason I'm giving them two-handed weapons, since, as they're in the back row, AC isn't quite as important)

So everyone is now pretty well equipped:

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So, next, we'll go and memorize spells, rest up, explore the rest of Civilized Phlan, before heading out to the Slums for adventure!
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Pool of Radiance (Part 4): Exploring New Phlan

Before we head off to the Slums, we have a few other things to take care of and look into.

First, we have spells to memorize! Time to find an inn. Luckily, one is just down the street from the weapons shop.

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Always make sure you have that platinum piece at this point! I once came out of equipment shopping without it (I had like a total of 2 gp; one further thing to remember is that in 1e rules, 1 pp = 5 gp, not 10 gp), and, well, basically had to re-start. Right now, we have like 7 pp, thankfully.

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Here's the camp screen, whether you're at an inn or camping outside. I'm sure our lovely innkeeper will be happy about the giant campfire we made in our room! At this point, we choose "Magic" so our cleric and our two magic-users can memorize their spells. First off is our Cleric:

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We'll choose two cure light wounds and detect magic (those monsters have to have magic items, right? Indeed they will...). Remember, this is pre-5e, so we have to choose spells for every slot, instead of just preparing a few and casting them as we wish with our slots. So if I want to be able to cast multiple cure light wounds, Brother Baltor is going to have to designate a slot for each and every one.

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So three spells ready to be memorized by our cleric! Our magic-users, however, aren't so lucky.

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I'm guessing 3e and later players' eyes are currently bulging in shock. Yep. One spell.

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Sleep it is, for both of our magic-users (at least it's going to be very effective against the low-level foes we're about to encounter in the Slums). Thankfully, this is only the default starting spell list - there are plenty of more spells out there to add. Each magic-user will get one free spell each time they level, and they can of course copy spells from scrolls as they are found. But for right now, they're one shot with their spell use, and then it's time for the bows to come out until the next rest. With our spells chosen, it's time to rest.

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We hit "Rest" and the time will go down to zero, and then all spells are memorized and good to go. In the high-level games, it can actually take several days of rest to regain spells if most spell slots have been used. Also, since we're in an inn, resting is no problem, but rest can be interrupted, with various degrees of probability, should we rest out in the wild (oftentimes, you'll get a message hinting or outright stating that some closet or other location appears to be unused and is a good place to get an uninterrupted rest).

So, here's where we've been so far:

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(Starting in the upper right, then to the upper left, backtracked to the clerk's office, went south to the store, and now in the inn, where the arrow is).

Before we go back to the gate to the slums there in the upper left, let's check out what else Civilized Phlan has to offer. There's a whole street of shops beyond the one we went to, but they all have one of the same three inventories. We've already seen the weapons and armor inventory, so let's see what else is out there to buy.

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Nothing much exciting here at first glance. There aren't any lycanthropes or anything else allergic to silver in the game, so all those silver items are pretty much useless. But... at the bottom there, that outrageously-priced long bow? You'd think it's just another useless item, but it's not. In fact, is probably the best weapon in the game. See, it's a strength bow, so instead of using DEX to hit (and not to damage - regular bows did not do extra DEX damage in 1e), characters use their STR for their to hit and damage bonuses! That's right, the already OP bows have an even more OP upgrade! We'll be saving up our money to get one for every character. Even my halfling, with her 17 STR, will benefit because, well, gauntlets of ogre power are a thing in this game.

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Mirrors (why weren't they sold in the silver shop?) are helpful in reflecting gaze attacks back onto creatures that have them, so they will suffer its effect instead of their target. There are several creatures like that in this game, so they can be useful in those circumstances (as they take up a shield slot otherwise). Oil and holy water do some minor splash damage (only against undead for holy water). The symbols are nice for RP, but really don't have a purpose in game - they don't buff turn undead attempts, for example.

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Taverns aren't terribly useful. You can hear (mostly false) tavern tales here, and quite often you can be swept up in a brawl (which at this point can be pretty dangerous).

Next, we'll go to the Training Hall, just so you can see what it looks like, since we'll be using the GBC leveling tool in these games

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I guess it would be a bit gauche to outright call them "thieves".

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Dueling here can be useful if you have a character that is just on the verge of leveling up. The duel can take you over the top, but only if the character survives. They go against their exact double in the duel, so oftentimes it just comes down to who wins initiative, which is way too swingy to be fun. Since we're using GBC leveling, just go out into the wild again and get those last few XP and level up out there!

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You can hire hirelings here as well. While that may seem like a good idea, they will demand (and automatically get) a certain share of the loot. Not good when they walk away with that nice magic weapon! Because once an NPC has an item, there's not a way to trade it back to a regular character's inventory (something useful to remember for regular NPCs who join the party as well).

So let's leave here and go to the Temple of Sune across the street.

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Not now, but let's see what you have!

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All temples in all the games will basically have this same menu, although in later games they might have some higher-level choices as well. The prices aren't listed, and they tend to be pretty steep. It's rare that you'll actually need to visit a temple, unless for some reason your cleric is the one needing the healing.

As we leave the temple and walk along the northern edge of the city next to the river:

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The fact that it's poisonous and barren will be something we'll be dealing with in the future!

OK, enough with this tour, let's go around the corner back to the gateway to the Slums:

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Nothing like suspicious glares towards the heroes trying to save your city from a fiery, monster-filled fate. I guess they're jealous, since if they were competent enough, they wouldn't be guards but real adventurers.

(Here's where we've gone in the civilized area)

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(And here is the full map of Civilized Phlan from the cluebook for those interested. We've gone everywhere exciting, so no real spoilers here)

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Next time: Into the Slums!
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