The SSI Gold Box games were a fondly remembered series of computer RPGs produced by SSI, based on the first edition Dungeons & Dragons
license. They were not the first D&D licensed games, but they were the first to appear in the 16 bit era, when home computers got sophisticated enough to implement substantial chunks of the game system. Their name comes from the distinctive gold-colored cardboard box that most of them came in, and plays on the D&D
custom of referring to individual editions by their respective packaging colors (e.g. the very first one was the "white box", the second was the "blue box", etc.). The Gold Box itself was succeeded by SSI's "Black Box" series, better known as Eye of the Beholder
The games were based on variations of the same engine and took place in a first person dungeon/city (with some games having an overworld map). Battles were turn-based and happened on a square grid.
The games were collected at various times, the most recent being the Forgotten Realms
Archives in 1997, which includes the five Pool of Radiance games and the two main Savage Frontier games, along with other Forgotten Realms
-based games. Playing them on modern computers generally requires Dosbox
or other emulation software.
Games in the series include:
- Pool of Radiance series:
- Pool of Radiance (the original version) (1988)
- Hillsfar (a spinoff used to boost character stats)
- Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989)
- Secret of the Silver Blades (1990)
- Pools of Darkness (1991)
- Savage Frontier series:
- Gateway to the Savage Frontier (1991)
- Treasures of the Savage Frontier (1992)
- Neverwinter Nights (the original version, not that one) (1991)
- Dragonlance series:
- Champions of Krynn (1990)
- Death Knights of Krynn (1991)
- The Dark Queen of Krynn (1992)
- Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace (1992)
- Buck Rogers series: (Lorraine Williams, owner of TSR at the time, inherited the rights to Buck Rogers, leading to a lot of promotion of Buck Rogers-based TSR products)
- Countdown to Doomsday (1990)
- Matrix Cubed (1992)
- And Unlimited Adventures (1993), which is a Game Maker to create games in this style.
Tropes in these games include:
- An Economy Is You: The only visible stores sell weapons and armor, and temples, inns, and training halls are the other buildings you can go into. Averted in ''Death Knights of Krynn', where shops sell candles, apples, and shoes (which have no game effect.)
- Armor and Magic Don't Mix: As per 1st-ed D&D rules.
- Artificial Stupidity
- Authority Equals Asskicking: The final bosses in each game tend to be the hardest fought encounters and for good reason, usually having AC well into the negatives and having strong weapons.
- Bag of Spilling: Justified in Curse of the Azure Bonds by the villains ambushing and stealing your equipment, and then in Secret of the Silver Blades, the villagers summon you, but forget to summon your equipment.
- Zigzagged in Treasures of the Savage Frontier. Turns out you just have to put on the gear you got from the last game.
- Averted in Pools of Darkness; characters imported from Secret of the Silver Blades will have all of their money and will likely still be wearing all of their equipment; only a few items from the previous game will not carry over. Unfortunately, most of them will disintegrate if you travel through the Pools to take on Bane's extraplanar lieutenants, so you have to leave them in a vault on Toril and take non-magical equipment with you to each new region for use until you "acquire" better stuff.
- Body Surf: Tyranthraxus twice. Once to a bronze dragon, the next time to a storm giant.
- Bonus Dungeon: Dave's Challenge: The Shrine of the Dark Queen in Death Knights of Krynn; and "Dave's Maze" in Pools of Darkness. Ye gods, Dave's Maze.
- Character Level
- Class Change Level Reset: As per 1st-ed D&D rules. But you do keep your hitpoints.
- Copy Protection - not only required you to state a word on the codewheel, but also to translate in-game texts. It also involved looking entries in a journal that contains Red Herrings if you try reading it without playing the game.
- Creator Cameo: Dave's Challenge most likely refers to Dave Shelley, one of the Game Developers.
- Cut and Paste Comic: Many of the pictures of monsters that show up on the upper-left hand window prior to combat were directly copied from the 1e Monster Manual. Note that since it was a licensed adapatation, they clearly had the ok from TSR to do this.
- Cut-and-Paste Environments: Extensively present in Secret of the Silver Blades. Also present in Curse of the Azure Bonds in the optional extra dungeons.
- Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: At the end of Dark Queen of Krynn, you go through the Abyss, free Raistlin from his chains and soon come upon Takhisis planning to cross over into the Material Plane. The most you can do to stop her from getting to the portal was throw a fireball at her which may as well have tickled, but it keeps her from crossing over.
- Dragon Their Feet: If you kill Dracandros but didn't defeat the Dracolich, he will attack you soon after leaving the village.
- Extended Gameplay
- "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: A section of Pools of Darkness takes place inside the giant corpse of the dead god Moander.
- Faux First-Person 3D
- Gladiator Subquest: In Gateway to the Savage Frontier, and optionally in Curse of the Azure Bonds.
- Gold–Silver–Copper Standard: The earlier games held to this (of which an especially annoying example was the 50,000 copper piecesnote that made up the bulk of one particular treasure in Pool of Radiance), but by Pools of Darkness you were using platinum pieces as petty cash.
- Guide Dang It: Especially when obscure D&D game rules were involved, like the formula for controlling a Sphere of Annihilation or the fact that you need to take 30 days to use a stat-raising Manual.
- Which led to some Good Bad Bugs - for example, in the 1e D&D rules only clerics or magic-users could control a Sphere of Annihilation. If you choose to use a different class in the part of the game where you challenge an enemy wizard to control a sphere, the computer won't know how to handle it and continually pushes the sphere against the wizard, much to his sorrow.
- Because the games skipped large blocks of text within the game to save floppy disk space and moved them to the instruction manual in the form of journals, playing without the instruction manual became this.
- Improbable Power Discrepancy: Most obvious in the Buck Rogers games, where enemies have more hitpoints during the second game for no clear reason—the Mercurians go from strongest to weakest in the sequel, whereas the reverse happens for the pirates.
- Interface Spoiler: Open gaps in walls on a battlefield correspond to doorways in the Faux First-Person 3D view. Seeing a gap in combat where a visible wall was present in exploration mode means that the wall is a secret door.
- It's Up to You
- Level Scaling: Many of the random encounters in Pool of Radiance contain more enemies for higher level parties.
- Light Is Not Good: The Pool of Radiance was thought by most denizens of the Phlan and Dragonspire area—including one very luckless bronze dragon—to be a font of noble wisdom. Turns out it's really nothing more than Tyranthraxus's prison—the light is actually from his nimbus of fire. And he's managed to circumvent the prison problem by dragging the prison with his current host.
- Literal Genie: The party is brought into Secret of the Silver Blades by someone asking the wishing well for heroes who could defeat the evil creatures. Too bad they did not specify to also bring any of the heroes' possessions, including the clothes they are wearing.
- Mass Monster Slaughter Sidequest: 'Clearing the block' in Pool of Radiance, particularly near the beginning.
- Mission Pack Sequel
- New Game+: Not officially, but some games allowed you to pull party members from a late-to-end-game save and start a new adventure with them, complete with their existing levels and equipment they were holding. Any shared items, such as the bank accounts in the Buck Rogers games, would not transfer, however.
- Nintendo Hard: A few optional battles that can usually be avoided (such as the Kernen gate battle in Champions of Krynn and the Mulmaster Beholder Corps in Curse of the Azure Bonds), and the aforementioned Shrine of the Dark Queen and Dave's Maze.
- Old Save Bonus: Advancing your character through the various Pool of Radiance games, for instance.
- Only Mostly Dead
- Outside-the-Box Tactic: You can stop trolls from regenerating by standing on the squares they were on after they are killed.
- Required Party Member: This was humorously subverted with Skyla in the town of Jelek in ''Champions of Krynn', where he would keep you from resting, join the party again if dropped, and disappear before a fight started. He betrays you, and you finally get to kill him later in the game.
- Role-Playing Game
- Romance Sidequest: True to some extent with Siulajia/Jabarkas in Treasures of the Savage Frontier.
- Shout-Out: Traveling between overworld areas in Curse of the Azure Bonds would have your characters randomly come across an old man, standing in front of a bridge across a deep chasm, who asked three questions; failing the third question (which involved the game's code wheel) would end the game with the message "An unseen force hurls you into the abyss!".
- So Long, and Thanks for All the Gear: A rather instantaneous version: temporary NPCs who join the party can be given items, but items in their inventory cannot be given to anyone else. Any equipment given to them cannot be recovered. Secret of the Silver Blades offers a (likely unintended) exception: Vala's equipment can be "deposited" in the city vault and retrieved by a player-controlled character.
- Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Averted in more free-form games like Pool of Radiance, more played straight in more railroad-ish games like Champions of Krynn.
- Summon Bigger Fish: At the end of Gateway to the Savage Frontier, the heroes use the Macguffins to defeat the Zhentarim and their allies by making a variety of creatures pretty much slaughter the evil armies.
- Standard Status Effects: Some variants—poison kills you outright instead of regularly losing HP, but you can still get paralyzed, charmed, or blinded.
- Starter Equipment: In the later games. Pools of Darkness would actually equip newly created characters with +2 weaponry.
- Too Awesome to Use: The Dust of Disappearance - it acts like an mass Invisibility spell that stays active even after you attack; in addition, it makes it impossible to be directly targeted with spells or missile fire (although you're still vulnerable to area attacks targeted on someone else). Probably best saved for the Very Definitely Final Dungeon or for a Nintendo Hard side quest fight like the Mulmaster Beholder Corps.
- Vendor Trash: Occasionally you'll find items like tapestries and braziers in treasure piles that can be picked up and sold (although generally not for a lot).
- You Wake Up in a Room: This is how Curse of the Azure Bonds opens.
- Younger Than They Look: In Curse of the Azure Bonds the character screen for the NPC Alias, a visibly adult human, claims her to be two years old. This is not explained in-game (and so some players might assume it to be a developer error), but it is actually based on her Forgotten Realms backstory.
- Wretched Hive: Phlan starts out like this at the start of Pools of Radiance, but after clearing it out block by block, as well as dealing with all sorts of monsters and villains throughout the series does the city well and finally get some much needed peace.