August 26, 2013

The History of the RPG: Pool of Radiance (1988)

Last Installment: Dungeon Master

By the late 1980s, the computer RPG was well-established. In particular, the "sword and sorcery" genre. But there was one interesting omission. Despite the fact that they pretty much made sword-swinging tabletop games a cultural mainstay, Dungeons and Dragons had yet to release an RPG for the computer-based gamer. All that changed, however, in 1988 with the release of Pool of Radiance* .

What made Pool of Radiance stand out wasn't the ability to choose your race and class. It wasn't the scenario (cleanse a city of evil!). What made it stand out what that it faithfully translated the experience of playing Dungeons and Dragons to the computer. Which, if you were a fan without like-minded people around where you lived, was a pretty big deal.** So you had the same ruleset, the same monsters, the same geographical locations. It's so commonplace now, but at the see the names on the screen was pretty incredible.

The combat system was excellent as well, a top-down projection that became a standard for these games. Commands issued in combat were executed at once by each character, instead of waiting for everyone to go at once. Like in the tabletop game, classes had specific attacks (thieves back-stabbing, for example) and you could rest to heal afterwards. And if this sounds a lot like how combat works in Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter're right. The basic template for how the Dungeons and Dragons games would work was laid down here.

They also continued the "bring your character to the next game" trend that was developing throughout this time and has found its full flower in the Mass Effect series. There were four games in all in what they called the "Gold Box" series that you could import your character into.

Pool of Radiance did have one interesting little quirk I have not seen used too much in newer RPGs. You could listen to gossip at the tavern and pick up quests. That is still used today in all kinds of RPGs (Skyrim made great use of that). What Pool of Radiance did was throw in red herrings that you could follow up on and just get you into a really sticky situation. Which is way more realistic; you can't trust every piece of tavern gossip you hear.***

Pool of Radiance is simply a solid gaming experience. There are people that still play this game through emulators. If Pool of Radiance had not delivered the goods, bringing Dungeons and Dragons to the computer would have been a lot harder.


Laid the groundwork for all Dungeons and Dragons - related CRPGs. Refined tactical combat to include real-time/pause hybrid. Made the "gossip for a quest" standard.


All the Dungeons and Dragons games that came after it. Other RPGs that assign quests through overheard gossip or chatter.

Next on the list: Wasteland


* I know... there was a Dungeons and Dragons cartridge for the Intellivision back in 1982. But that was never really a big deal, it wasn't on a computer and it wasn't that good. So we aren't counting it.

** Yes, this would be me.

*** I really like this idea and I wish modern games would use this. It would add another level of realism.


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