The Stinking Cloud spell sees much more use within the Gold Field video games than it ever does in a typical Dungeons & Dragons session. If you’re sitting round a desk pretending to be a formidable wizard, summoning a sphere of what’s mainly poisonous fart fuel is not your normal go-to. In 1988’s Pool of Radiance, the primary recreation SSI revealed in an iconic golden bundle, enemies would not stroll right into a Stinking Cloud, making it a robust device for area-denial accessible to your in any other case type of ineffective degree 2 magic-user—as long as you did not unintentionally catch the front-row fighters in it.
Although the monsters have been slightly smarter in Pool’s 1989 sequel Curse of the Azure Bonds, and would threat charging by a Stinking Cloud reasonably than let your social gathering stand on the opposite facet capturing arrows +1 all day lengthy, the spell was nonetheless more likely to go away them nauseated and helpless, in a position to be slain “with one merciless blow” because the memorable description put it, by anybody who walked over to stab them. Even a degree 2 magic-user.
There have been two causes Stinking Cloud—and the opposite low-level area-of-effect spell, Sleep—have been mainstays of the traditional Gold Field video games. The primary was that these video games had turn-based tactical fight with sufficient depth that penning in enemies was a naturally occurring tactic. With a celebration of six player-characters, plus one or two NPCs, it was straightforward to dam corridors and pressure kobolds to come back to you. Bunched up, they grew to become good targets for giant spells, in addition to the fighter’s sweep assaults, and perhaps a cheeky backstab out of your multiclassed fighter-thief.
The opposite cause they have been important was that so lots of the different spells have been ineffective. The Knock spell allow you to open locked doorways, which any fighter might do with a bash, Safety From Good was pointless as a result of many of the enemies have been evil, Detect Invisibility and Cut back have been so situational that memorizing them was a waste of time, and Burning Fingers solely did one level of injury per degree and had a variety of “mainly fucking”.
These spells have been included as a result of the early Gold Field video games have been as true to the then-current Superior Dungeons & Dragons 1st Version guidelines as they could possibly be. It is the identical cause that they had harsh degree caps for non-human characters, fixed resting to memorize spells, having to pay a coach each time you wished to degree up—all genuine parts of AD&D again within the day, all a complete drag.
Which video games rely as Gold Field?
The title Gold Field refers each to the packing containers a few of SSI’s video games have been launched in, and the title of the engine they have been made in. Confusingly, not each recreation made with the Gold Field engine was launched in a gold field, and which video games ought to be counted relies upon who you ask. The bundle of Gold Field Classics (opens in new tab) SNEG launched on Steam would not embody the 1991 on-line recreation for apparent causes, or Spelljammer or the 2 Buck Rogers video games made within the engine however not revealed with gold packing containers, but does embody the Darkish Solar, Ravenloft, and Eye of the Beholder collection, in addition to Menzoberranzan and Dungeon Hack, none of which got gold packing containers or made with the engine. SNEG additionally rereleased Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse (opens in new tab) and Stronghold (opens in new tab), which use the identical launcher, however did not embody them within the bundle. It is a muddle.
Once we performed these video games within the late ’80s and early ’90s, we needed to put up with that stuff. Because of the Gold Field Companion (opens in new tab), fashionable gamers do not. The work of Joonas Hirvonen, who additionally created the All Seeing Eye (opens in new tab) companion apps for the Eye of the Beholder collection, the Gold Field Companion snaps a menu to the highest of the sport window that exhibits summaries of your characters, full with HP and XP bars, and offers entry to a collection of choices that embody leveling up away from the coaching corridor (whereas additionally ignoring race-based degree caps), storing the spells you have at present bought memorized then restoring them with one click on, mechanically figuring out magic gadgets, restoring misplaced ranges to characters who’ve been drained, and so forth.
The place the unique video games have been strict interpretations of the principles as written, having the Companion is like enjoying D&D with a Dungeon Grasp who skips the boring stuff and ignores the extra unfair guidelines, which really brings it nearer to the actual expertise of enjoying D&D. Even the annotatable automated map snapped to the window’s proper is like having the type of DM who simply uncovers the dungeon on the desk as you discover. That is how I do it, as a result of the considered forcing my pals to attract on graph paper whereas I recite the precise dimensions of each room makes me need to eat a bullet.
What’s completely different within the Steam variations?
Whereas the Gold Field Companion has been round for years, SNEG’s Steam launch of the Gold Field Classics (opens in new tab), which additionally throws within the Eye of the Beholder collection and some different video games, comes with up to date variations of the Companion and the All-Seeing Eye preinstalled. These variations of the apps are paired with a launcher, which suggests they open mechanically reasonably than needing to seek for your savegame each time. The Companion additionally has a brand new choice to alter the video games’ font, and the launcher permits you to simply reconfigure the window measurement to make room for the add-ons. On my 1440p monitor, operating them at 1080p is a cosy match, with slightly room on the high for my wallpaper to peep over.
I performed the GOG variations of those video games (opens in new tab) just a few years in the past, downloading the Companion individually. The standalone model might have lacked the font-changing and wanted extra faff to get operating (utilizing GOG Galaxy’s graphics mode setup I set the scaling engine to normal2x, then realized every part regarded too extensive and went again to tick the Preserve Facet Ratio field), nevertheless it did have some additional choices. Specifically, a personality editor, save editor, teleporter, and extra character courses so you’ll be able to play paladins and rangers in Pool of Radiance reasonably than ready for them to be added in Curse of the Azure Bonds, in addition to an experimental monk class that was by no means a part of the videogames.
The standalone Companion was a extra highly effective toolset, however I finally ended up with corrupted saves each instances I used it, so I can see why the Steam model has been streamlined to stop you monkeying round as completely together with your information.
If you wish to attempt a few of these choices within the Steam launch, Joonas has uploaded a few Steam extras (opens in new tab). One obtain provides the character editor and an “discover map” button, one other provides playable paladins and rangers to Pool of Radiance. A 3rd bolts onto Forgotten Realms: Limitless Adventures—a DIY situation design package launched in 1993 that permits you to create your individual Gold Field adventures—making it straightforward to put in modules constructed by followers.
A sizeable fan group (opens in new tab) has been making modules for Limitless Adventures over time, so there are lots to select from, together with diversifications of traditional D&D situations like The Carry on the Borderlands in addition to remakes of the sooner Gold Field video games. If you cannot bear to play Pool of Radiance with out mouse controls and greater than 16 colours, enjoying it inside Limitless Adventures is another choice. The fan variations additionally restore the theme music to it and Curse of the Azure Bonds, a banging tune (opens in new tab) that is sadly been faraway from each the Steam and GOG releases.
An entire world in a field
Even with the Companion, it is value being warned these are clunky video games. They use the numberpad for nearly every part, which suggests navigating menus utilizing 1 for down and seven for up. (Web page up and web page down work as properly, as I’ve simply discovered many years too late.) Treasure consists of six types of coin, and should you can bear in mind off the highest of your head that 1 platinum coin is value 10 electrum cash, which is the same as 5 gold cash, or 100 silver cash, or 1000 copper cash, you are doing higher than me. All these cash have encumbrance, and you find yourself abandoning piles of cash to keep away from being weighed down by it, which does not matter as a result of there’s hardly something value shopping for anyway. Each weapon store’s stock consists of an overlong checklist plumped out with each type of polearm in D&D, none of which you may ever want.
So what made them classics, and why would anybody need to play them at present? The turn-based tactical fight I rhapsodized about above is a large a part of it, and fight makes up the vast majority of what you may be doing. A number of the spin-offs went real-time although, with Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse (opens in new tab) nearer to a Legend of Zelda recreation, and others have been first-person blobbers like Eye of the Beholder. On that topic I bow to the experience of my esteemed colleague Andy Chalk, who says everybody ought to play Eye of the Beholder 2: The Legend of Darkmoon.
Past the fight, a major a part of their attraction is all the way down to their distinctive vibe. The journals are accountable for lots of that, stuffed with textual content and generally diagrams that would not match on the floppy disks. Every part from overheard tavern gossip to excerpts from books present in a haunted library or crude maps drawn by monsters—all of it could possibly be discovered within the journal, which you would be directed to from the sport with notes like, “You discover data on his physique and log it as Journal Entry 4.”
In comparison with the terseness of most in-game writing on the time, all-caps and brutally edited to suit textual content packing containers, the journal entries have been verbose and characterful, whether or not evoking a haughty villain’s speech or a spy’s abstract of close by threats. The writers clearly had enjoyable with them, even including entries that weren’t pointed to from wherever within the video games, written to steer astray anybody who tried to cheat by studying paragraphs they hadn’t been instructed to.
The in-game writing was extra fundamental, although you would parley with monsters, which meant guessing which perspective from decisions like haughty, meek, good, or abusive could be finest for coping with hobgoblins. One main villain turned it round and parleyed with you, delivering a “It is best to be a part of me!” speech that allow you to reply individually for each character in your social gathering. (Anybody who mentioned sure grew to become an NPC within the ultimate combat.)
Although the graphics have been rudimentary, and the later Gold Field video games have been outclassed by their contemporaries, seeing animated variations of monster artwork primarily based on the illustrations from the Monster Guide made it really feel such as you have been enjoying D&D in a approach later diversifications like Baldur’s Gate did not. The heroes however had sprites you bought to design, which made each adventurer really feel like they have been yours. The very fact they have been only a handful of pixels meant you by no means needed to fear about making a personality solely to appreciate hours later their mouth regarded bizarre in cutscenes.
Select your individual journey
The ultimate, important side of the Gold Field vibe was that one of the best of them gave you freedom to plot your individual path. After a linear opening during which you are cursed with a bunch of magic tattoos, Curse of the Azure Bonds set you free on an overworld map to take away them in no matter order you selected. Pool of Radiance was all about taking again the city of Phlan—a reputation I might by no means take critically—and its environment from monsters who had pushed the inhabitants out. It was a stack of missions that could possibly be tackled nevertheless you selected.
That mentioned, going wherever undead had made their dwelling earlier than you have been prepared was a foul time, and attempting to filter the trolls in Phlan’s Rope Guild whenever you have been solely degree 1 or 2 was an train in futility, irrespective of what number of Stinking Clouds you have been packing. And the “discover the plot your self” nature of Heirs to Cranium Crag (the default module included in Limitless Adventures) and among the Krynn video games made them more durable to get into.
The Gold Field video games have been leagues forward of most different RPGs after they have been new, however they weren’t with out issues. They struggled to enhance on their early successes too, which is why I am nearly solely speaking about Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds. In 1992, Treasures of the Savage Frontier added climate results and one of many first romanceable companions in an RPG, however actual change solely got here when SSI moved on from the Gold Field engine.
The long run is darkish, which is one of the best factor the long run may be
In 1993, SSI launched Darkish Solar: Shattered Lands, which made dialogue decisions frequent and vital—generally providing completely different ones primarily based on what sort of characters you’d made. Issues could possibly be solved in a number of methods, with alternate options introduced naturally. After being captured and compelled to combat in a gladiator pit, you would win battles to impress one of many jail gangs till they allow you to in on their escape plan, or discover a jewel to bribe a guard, or heal an amnesiac who’d escaped as soon as earlier than however had the reminiscence eliminated. Not each choice was equally good, however you have been free to pursue whichever appealed, and even mix a few them.
The SNEG re-release consists of a number of video games that weren’t technically Gold Field video games, just like the Darkish Solar collection, and I am glad of that. The older video games are traditionally vital, and I really feel a rush of nostalgia each time the massive cranium and crossbones seems whenever you kill a monster, however taken on their very own I might see them seeming like a useless finish—a collection that began stronger than it ended, and fell into repetition midway by. By together with video games like Darkish Solar: Shattered Lands, they make it clear there was innovation happening, and make the connection between these RPGs and people of the later ’90s like Fallout way more plain.
And in addition to pioneering the branching dialogue bushes and avenues of selection that will change into customary within the higher taste of contemporary RPG, Darkish Solar: Shattered Lands added a clearly readable spell impact marker so that you at all times knew who’d be hit by a Stinking Cloud.