Saturday, August 11, 2007

Pool of Radiance: entry 1

In my introductory entry I failed to mention which version of Pool of Radiance I'd be playing. I decided on the IBM-DOS version. That's the version my friend's cousin went on and on about back in the day. In this particular subject, I trust my friend's cousin. He wore black all the time. So step one was getting an old DOS emulator. As far as I know (I could very well be wrong) this program called DOSBOX is just about the only way to go to emulate on my Apple iMac. I got the emulator, but it took me a good long time of experimenting and googling to figure out how to run Pool on it. I still don't quite understand what I did. It had to do with mounting the proper drives and other Dossy stuff. It made me kind of wish I had done this on the Commodore 64 emulator. That's way easier to use. You don't even need to remember the C-64 commands if you want to play the games.

The readme.txt file that came with the download of the game casually explained that some tweaking was involved, but it hardly elaborated.
"*** If you get a message saying "INSERT DISK 3 IN DRIVE C", edit the file `pool.cfg', and add a backslash at the end of both path statements!!"
Needless to say, I was too retarded to do whatever this little message was talking about. The readme also mentioned the rulebook and Adventurers Journal files, but I couldn't find where they were.

Somehow, finally after an hour or so, I had everything I needed (I thought). I sighed and went ahead and began the game by heading right into "Create Characters." Then I hit this screen and realized I shouldn't begin just yet.

I immediately realized that I was now getting involved in some real AD&D here. I was used to beginning Ultima games where you just told the gypsy what you thought of certain ethical situations and she created your character for you. Now, I'm dealing with different races that have effects on different classes with different alignments. Not doing my homework in party creation meant that I could possibly build up a party of if impotent, incompetent RPG laughing stocks. I had no idea what the dwarves special abilities were and what class I should make them. Can dwarves do magic? I don't know. Why in the world would I want a halfling in my party if they're only half as good as a full-ling? Those are just the questions involved in race. For character class I need to consider the benefits of having a clerical magic user and for alignments I need to consider the possibility of having a chaotic evil character. I thought I was the good guys. I considered just messing around on the character creation just so I could get out and play around with the game a little, but I want to start out doing things right rather than starting over later.

I obviously had a lot of studying to do, so I flipped the game off and hit the books. Since I couldn't extract the instructions out of the downloaded game file, I had to rely on a pretty painless Google search. The good folks at replacementdocs.com provided me with the Adventurers Journal (shouldn't there be an apostrophe in there somewhere?), which I read first.

The journal begins with a quick overview of the geography of the Moonsea area. I considered drawing out a map as I read it, but I didn't want to embarrass myself with the final product. I knew it would be way off the actual final product. Maybe I'll hold out on the map until I'm actually in the wilderness. At first glance I couldn't tell if Moonsea is the actual ocean or if it's a big lake. It will be one swell map though. Three rivers are interestingly named Wyrmflow, Tesh and Evenflow. I know there's an Orson Scott Card book called Wyrms, but I don't know what the deal is with the spelling. I'm totally pleading my fantasy vocabulary ignorance. Are wyrms like worms, but weirder? Or are they like feminist worms, and they spell their names differently for the same reasons some chicks went by the term womyn a few decades ago? I assume the Tesh river is named after Entertainment Tonight co-host and new-age composer John Tesh. And Evenflow not only is the non-sensical title of a Pearl Jam song, but is a very popular brand of babies' high chairs.

Catching up on the history of Phlan was pretty difficult for me. I love reading historical synopses, but this was harder because it's all new with no context. I was surprised to find the mentioning very early on of the Pool of Radiance itself. It's far more of a tease than a giveaway since it also mentioned that the pool is more of a mystery than a piece of history. I was also intrigued by the casual mention of the three heroes from an earlier age: Milsor, Rimon, and Alonius. No doubt one or all of them will somehow come into the actual gameplay somehow. Another surprising historical revelation was that at one point a guy named Ferran Martinez held the final garrison to the city. It's just like Phlan to abandon the Mexican in an important battle. Wait! How did a Mexican get to Phlan?

I wonder how complete the book's bestiary is. There weren't entries for beholders, liches or dragons despite the fact that all three are mentioned elsewhere in the journal. Also, apparently minotaurs are often found in mazes. Now I know this is based on popular myth, but that was after all just one minotaur. Why in the world would any creature actually need or want to chill out in a freakin' maze?

After the bestiary I was treated to the numerous proclamations set up by the town council, which are sort of amusing. I guess it doesn't list every proclamation, but it lists a few between the Roman numerals of LIX and CCXIV. Just about every proclamation states something to the effect of "such and such area is infested with such and such monsters, so we need some adventurers to make that area safe for civilization." The town council could've saved a lot of time and paper on like 200 proclamations if they just said "Kill all the monsters you can." Also four or five specifically mention different weird stuff going down in the cemetary. Probably should've just said, "That Valhigen Graveyard is messed up! Do whatever shiz you can."

This proclamation I found particularly interesting:

Nice to know that even in the dark times of Phlan, when a duchess is abducted heroes don't immediately go out to reclaim her, but need to cut through a small series of bureaucratic red tape in order to get the job started.

After gourging on the Adventurers Journal I glimpsed over the game instructions. That's where most of the help came in. I discovered that dwarves and elves can see in the dark and that halflings are less likely to get hit by magical attacks. I also learned that although the thought of having a cleric along for the ride seemed about as boring as having a real-world clerical job, it would be very very helpful. At this point, though, my biggest concern is whether or not I should just have everyone in the party be a human. Apparently, humans have no cap to their class levels while every other race does. Does that mean that while a dwarf fighter can class up to only level 9, a human fighter could eventually class up to level 99? Is level 9 plenty, or will I eventually need the unlimited human class to go beyond single-digit levels?

I'll be sleeping on it. At this point, I'll probably stick in a couple of humans as a fighter and magic user, a half-elf as a cleric and then maybe a dwarf as a back-up fighter. That will give me a few slots left over for some throwaway characters and NPCs.

Tomorrow maybe I'll actually start playing.


2 comments:

Simeon Pilgrim said...

Will be interesting to hear how you enjoy play some of the classics. I loved Pool and Curse so much I'm in the middle of a slow re-write of Curse. So I'd be interested to read how the UI/game play of the classic dos versions goes for you. Good to hear you got DOSBox working in the end.

Kameron said...

Ah, building your party. The first thing to consider is how choosing a race will affect your stats. Racial level restrictions really will only come into play if you use the same characters throughout the Gold Box series. POR has a level cap of 6 for spellcasters (clerics and magic-users), 8 for fighters and 9 for thieves (IIRC).

Humans can give you the best Strength (STR), the stat that determines you ability to hit in melee and how much damage you do, important for Fighters. Dwarves give the second best STR and the best Constitution (CON), which gives a bonus to HP, so they make good Fighters, too.

Elves have the highest Dexterity (DEX), so they make good Thieves, though I'd recommend a multi-class Fighter/Thief so you can use a bow.

The party I've found effective:
-human fighter
-dwarf fighter
-human cleric
-human magic-user
-elf fighter/magic-user
-elf fighter/thief