"You slay the monster," the Dungeon Master intones. "Good work! Let's see... for your trouble, you get 500 experience points and..." (dice clatter quietly on the paper-strewn table) "three gold pieces each. There's also a dagger here, iron and brass with three small rubies in the hilt. Who'll take it..."
For many role-playing fans, this was their first introduction to TSR's venerable Advanced Dungeons and Dragonsa group of friends, a stack of books, a jumbo pizza, dice in every imaginable shape, and the guiding voice of a storytelling DM. Although some modules contained sketches or maps which could be shown to players during key events, 990f the adventure took place solely in the realm of shared imagination. And visitors to that realm will remember it as vividly as if they'd seen it in person.
Then along came computer-based AD&D. A monitor took the place of a dining room table, with manuals and tutorials in place of books. Clattering dice were supplanted by the invisible silence of random numbers, and friends replaced by AI characters. In the era of digital graphics, where a 20-foot corridor was immediately recognizable as such and a charging ogre was even more obvious, even the Dungeon Master's descriptive tasks became unnecessary. And so the glorious future was upon us, with each gamer freed from the constraints of social organization or interaction. Immersed in grand virtual quests such as Pool of Radiance or Curse of the Azure Bonds, we sat alone in our darkened dens and lived the lives of heroes.
But sometimes, even now, as we crow over our latest vanquished sorcerer in the modern successors to these digital epics... somewhere, in the depths of our little gamer hearts, we miss the playful banter of friends around a dining room table. Sometimes, when facing a horde of oncoming monsters, we miss the "thinking time" offered by AD&D's original initiative-based combat system. Sometimes, in a hack-and-slash mood, we miss those between-module sessions where we could just jump into a random dungeon and beat things up for extra experience and loot. And sometimes, with a slain red dragon cooling on the virtual flagstones behind us, we miss that encouraging, appreciative, personal DM voice: "Good work! You've gained a level."
Although AD&D has won much in its conversion to the digital mediumimmersion, convenience, accessibility, and wider appealit seems to have lost an equal amount of the original pen-and-paper version's "feel".
Now SSI and Stormfront plan to restore a portion of that lost magic in Pool of Radiance II.
All that glitters...
Long-time RPG players will undoubtedly recognize the name "SSI Gold Box games". This AD&D-based series was the gold standard of entertainment and quality for years after its introduction in 1988 with the original Pool of Radiance. In fact, the very mention of the Gold Box titles is likely to induce a near-Pavlovian response of nostalgia in a large number of gamers?many consider these to be the best RPGs ever made. So the only surprise in SSI's announcement of a new Gold Box title is the length of time it took the company to do so.