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Video Game / Gold Box

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Some of the Gold Box games
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.

The Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance Gold Box games are currently available on GOG.comnote , with all the "get 25-year-old DOS games to run smoothly and properly on modern comps" fiddling already taken care of.

Games in the series include:

  • Pool of Radiance series (based on the Forgotten Realms):
    • Pool of Radiance (the original version) (1988)
    • Hillsfar (a spinoff used to boost character stats)
    • Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989) (based on The Finder's Stone Trilogy)
    • 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 (1991) (not to be confused with the BioWare game)

  • Dragonlance series:
    • Champions of Krynn (1990)
    • Death Knights of Krynn (1991)
    • The Dark Queen of Krynn (1992)

  • Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace (1992)

  • Buck Rogers XXVC series: (Lorraine Williams, owner of TSR at the time, inherited the rights to Buck Rogers, leading to a lot of promotion of TSR's products based on their versions of the franchise.)
    • 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:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: Death Knights of Krynn and Dark Queen of Krynn both lack a thirteenth journal entry, which is particularly fitting in the former game as its focus is supernatural horror...particularly the undead.
  • 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.
  • Bag of Sharing: The city vault in Secret of the Silver Blades is an interesting example: its contents are saved in its own file independent of any game save. This means that the contents of the vault are shared throughout any and all playthroughs of the game. This means that a newly created party just starting out might find treasures left behind from a previous playthrough of the game.
  • 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 with a wish, but forget to summon your equipment.
    • 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.
    • Subverted in Gateway to the Savage Frontier. The dialogue suggested a Bag of Spilling event occured, but it was the first game of that trilogy.
    • Zigzagged in Treasures of the Savage Frontier. Turns out you just have to put on the gear you got from the last game.
  • 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.
  • Class Change Level Reset: As per 1st-ed D&D rules. But you do keep your hitpoints.
  • Clue of Few Words: In Pool of Radiance, when you first arrive at Sokol Keep you can find an elf skeleton that has the word "Lux". This is the word to use to avoid battles with spectres, the leader of which is quite deadly.
  • 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 adaptation, 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.
  • '80s Hair / '90s Hair: Just look at all the women's hair on the game covers. Most prominent examples are Curse of the Azure Bonds, Pool of Darkness, The Dark Queen of Krynn and Treasures of the Savage Frontier.
  • Eldritch Abomination: While all of these games are loaded with disgusting baddies, the crown goes to Moander — the dead God of Decay who perpetually has followers trying to revive him piece by piece. In Pools of Darkness, players can visit his realm...which is literally just walking on his body which is about a county long. Merely entering in his realm causes the party to get mildly despondent. (though having no in-game effects)
  • "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: A section of Pools of Darkness takes place inside the giant corpse of the dead god Moander.
  • Faux First Person 3D: All the town and dungeon segments are portrayed this way.
  • Gladiator Subquest: In Gateway to the Savage Frontier, and optionally in Curse of the Azure Bonds.
  • Gold–Silver–Copper Standard: The games held to this, but included encumbrance without auto-conversion (meaning if you found 50 silver pieces, they remained 50 silver pieces that weighed 5 pounds until you spent them). The ultimate expression of this was the 50,000-copper piece hoard that made up the bulk of a kobold tribe's treasure in Pool of Radiance. At the standard weight of 10 coins/pound, that equaled two-and-a-half tons of copper; good luck getting it back to Phlan! By Pools of Darkness, however, you would keep most of your wealth in gems, jewelry, and magic items (while 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.
    • In the 1e D&D rules only clerics or magic-users could control a Sphere of Annihilation, and the game's trial of the sphere has a sign saying spellcasters only, where there is a duel between two spellcasters to control a sphere of annihilation. Under the official formula, there's a low chance of control unless right up at the level and stat caps. The route to victory is knowing that the best chance of winning is to be less powerful than the opposing mage, because the sphere slips towards the most powerful wizard trying but failing to control it - and non-magic users aren't specifically stopped at the doorway. (Specifically, the opponent is a level 6-7 wizard, with an INT score of 17 - a 24% to win if against a wizard or 29% if against anyone else.)
    • 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.
      • In the Bonus Dungeon "Dave's Challenge" in Pools of Darkness, there's a hidden room with a glowing...thing. It asks for the magic word, which is apparently "Oh, Well" (comma included) massively increases your experience. But...this is the last game, and the hardest challenge; making it a Bragging Rights Award. (Although technically, through save abuse if you have a save there you can max out new characters if you replay the game.)
  • Humanity Is Superior: Being based on the 1st edition D&D rules, non-human character races (elves, dwarves, etc.) suffer from this greatly. While human PCs can select all available classes and achieve maximum levels in them, non-human races are very limited in their choices. Dwarves, gnomes, and halflings can only choose fighter and thief, elves can also be magic-users, and half-elves - because they're half human by definition - can select all classes except paladin. Still, with the exception of the thief class, non-humans also suffer severe racial level caps that stop their progression dead in their tracks while still in the single digit levels. While that's not much of a problem in the first game in the Pool of Radiance series, because the overall level cap is also still in the single digit range, it basically renders non-humans pointless in the rest of the series where humans can reach up to 40th level. The Savage Frontier series also suffers from this, but - since the overall level cap is far lower - not as severely as in the Pool of Radiance series.
    • Partially averted in the Dragonlance series which uses the character advancement rules from the Dragonlance campaign setting. It grants non-human races access to more classes, and also removes the racial level cap on many of them. However, humans still remain the only race that can reach the maximum level in all classes.
    • Fully averted in the Buck Rogers games, which did away with racial level caps altogether — if a race can select any given class, it can attain the maximum level in it. Likewise, only two of the six available races don't have access to all classes.
  • 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.
  • In-Universe Game Clock: Time passes for movement, resting, and so on. Part of it is to handle spell durations, also time required to memorize spells. Usage of said clock isn't as detailed as it could be (e.g. Dracandros tower shows the sun in the sky but not night-time.)
  • It's Up to You
  • Level Scaling: Many of the random encounters in Pool of Radiance contain more enemies for higher level parties. Not so much Level Scaling as Power Scaling as the game engine determines the party's power not only via the characters' levels, but also their attribute scores. Many players (ab)used the option to modify their characters' attribute scores (which was intended to allow players to re-create characters from pen-and-paper sessions) to set all attributes to their maximum scores, which in turn can and will lead to battles that border on Nintendo Hard due to the party being vastly outnumbered. Once particular battle early in Pool of Radiance can result in the party - which will be around 2nd or 3rd character levels if the player takes on this quest as soon as it's available - facing upwards of 50 hobgoblins at once.
  • 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. To be more precise, this quest requires you to defeat 20 random encounters, all of which inevitably result in combat. The amount of monsters you have to fight per encounter ranges from half a dozen upwards, which means that your party of six 1st level PCs will probably have to return to the city after one or two encounters to rest - all the while hoping you don't trigger another random encounter on the way.
  • Mission-Pack Sequel
  • New Game Plus: 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.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: There are a number of ways that you can make any game in the series harder for yourself, but it takes a particularly foolish player to actively harm your chances of survival. For example, in Pool of Radiance, towards the end of the game, you can find a temple of Bane (an evil god). The priests are likely to attack you, since declaring your allegiance to Bane to appease them will get you in trouble in other ways. But after defeating them, you can find two magical longswords on the altar. You would expect that taking the swords would be a good idea, because magical weapons are always good to have, but they're cursed and hurt you if you try to wield them. In addition, taking them alerts everyone in the final area that you are their enemy, prompting them to actively search for you and greatly increasing the encounter rate (with difficult encounters to boot) as long as the alarm is ringing. This can make the final dungeon much, much harder than it should be.
  • 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.
    • You can also avoid the deadly special attacks and spells of Non Player Characters by having one of your party members approach the NPC and then move away from them, provoking an attack. This "Opportunity Attack" would use up that NPC's action for the round if they hadn't already gone. Much better to take a dragon's bite (which could also miss) than for that dragon to use their breath weapon. Works on spellcasters, Beholders, etc.
  • Rank Scales with 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.
  • Redundant Rescue: In one part of Pool of Radiance, you come across a runaway barbarian princess NPC as she's strangling a kobold. Close behind her are a cell with six more dead kobolds and the remains of her bindings. She offers to join your party, presumably for protection. (Yours, as it turns out.)
  • 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. In general the games lacked these, though, due to the player-defined nature of the parties.
  • Shop Fodder: 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).
  • 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!".
    • Also in Curse, traveling through Zenthil Keep will result in the party hearing an old man pointing at them and claiming that you killed Fritz.
  • 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. Gear can also be recovered from a character who is knocked unconscious or killed.
  • 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.
  • Starter Equipment: In the later games. Pools of Darkness would actually equip newly created characters with +2 weaponry.
  • Status Effects: Some variants. Poison kills you outright instead of regularly losing HP, but you can still get paralyzed, charmed, or blinded.
  • Take Your Time:
    • There's some segments where time is essential, but most of the events are based on reaching a certain locations.
    • Dracandros is fleeing the tower, but you still catch up to him despite multiple rests (or taking on the sphere challenge, etc.) In the tabletop module that's based on this game, this has a 7-minute time limit because the mage is actually fleeing the tower and the party needs to keep chase.
  • Too Awesome to Use: The Dust of Disappearance - it acts as a 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.
  • Unintentionally Unwinnable: In Pool of Radiance one of the monster areas is barricaded behind a massive locked gate. To continue the main story requires you to unlock that gate, but thief lockpicking is ineffective to open it and the gate is too resistant to bash through even with 18/00 strength. The only option that works is the Knock spell which only magic-users can learn and only a a level-up option as there are no Knock scrolls anywhere in the game. Hope your magic-user picked that spell during a level up!
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: In Pool of Radiance, if your party is strong enough - they can massacre the town guard and loot them. In fact, many of the best items in that game came from the guards' corpses. You are punished, as the town refuses to trade with you or train you. But you are Easily Forgiven as soon as you complete a quest and collect your reward from the townhall.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Pool Of Radiance