Thursday, December 3, 2015

Choices and Tactics for a Successful Pool of Radiance Game

As I am have been playing through Pool of Radiance, I have really come to appreciate its tactical combat and the simple yet intricrate mechanics of a system using the AD&D 1st Edition rules.  Of course, not everyone will be able to just simply pick up the game and those that do can be easily frustrated.  So I will try to discuss strategies for getting through the game in this post.  As I continue to play the game, I hope to be able to expand this blog entry.  It will not be a walkthrough or give specifics of how to defeat this encounter or what items to keep from that encounter.

Maxing your stats

For each character you create, you can and should consider maximize their ability scores and hit points.  You cannot do this after your start a game, and you will need all the advantages you can get to survive the low levels.

You cannot maximize their starting gold, so you should reroll until you get a good result.  Fighters can start with up to 200gp, clerics 180gp, thieves 120gp and magic-users 80gp.

There is a fair amount of tedium in Pool of Radiance, buying and selling, resting and healing and turn based battles with tons of foes

Multi-classing vs. Single-class

Multi-class characters are a defensible choice if all you want to do is beat Pool of Radiance, but you will level up a bit more slowly.  If you want to get through the whole tetralogy, you will want single-class characters to avoid level limits.  This means a human party.  Thieves have no level limits regardless of class, so a fighter/thief is a more justifiable choice than other multi-class characters.  However, multi-class characters have to split their experience between their classes, even if they can no longer progress in one of them, so your characters will gain levels more slowly than a single class character.  They also must adhere to certain restrictions of each class.  Finally, multi-classes halve the HP they receive when they level up, so a level 2 fighter/thief can have a maximum of 16HP as opposed to 20HP for a single class fighter.

Racial benefits

All non-human races should have benefits, unfortunately it is often difficult to tell whether they were implemented in the game. .  Elves get a +1 to hit with short and long swords and bows.  Elves may be immune to Ghoul paralysis.  Elves should also have 90% resistance to sleep and charm spells.  Half-elves should have a 30% resistance.  Elves and half-elves should also have a better chance of finding hidden objects.

Dwarves should get a bonus of up to +5 to their saving throws against wands, staves and spells and poison, based on their Constitution.  They also should get a +1 to hit against goblins, hobgoblins and orcs and ogres, trolls and giants should have a -4 to hit them.

Gnomes should also receive the same benefit to their wands, staves and spells saving throws as dwarves have.  They should get a +1 against Kobolds and Goblins and gnolls, bugears, ogres, trolls and giants should have a -4 to hit them.

Halflings should also receive the same benefit to their wands, staves and spells and poison saving throws as dwarves have.

Taking advantage of terrain

Walls and trees can be vital to your party's survival.  When outnumbered by enemies that are not significantly weaker than you are, you should maneuver your party to take maximum advantage of impassable objects.  You can limit the number enemies that can hit you by utilizing choke points.  Monsters cannot move past each other if there is no room.  With monsters that take up two or four squares, you can often maneuver them so that one will block the rest, allowing your characters to concentrate their attacks on one character.

Characters can move and attack diagonally, so can enemies.  You use this to your advantage with a numeric keypad for the PC version of Pool.  If you place your characters in front of or at the mouth of a gap, the enemy will be able to attack you diagonally on your flanks.  If you position yourself behind the gap, then the situation is reversed.  Consider the following diagrams :

Fig. 1
|          |
|          |
|          |
|          |
|----  ----|
|----  ----|

Fig. 2
|          |
|          |
|          |
|          |

Fig. 3
|          |
|          |
|          |
|    CC    |

Fig. 4
|          |
|          |
|          |
|   CFFC   |

Key :
C = Cleric
F = Fighter
O = Orc
| - = Wall

In fig. 1, the party is at a disadvantage because eight orcs can attack the characters.  Fig. 2 may show an improvement because now only four orcs can attack, but the clerics cannot attack back.  Fig. 3 improves on the situation of Fig. 2, now only the two fighters and the two orcs can attack each other.  Fig. 4 shows the best situation, all four characters can attack, but only two orcs can attack.  Note that walls in this game may only take one tile but effectively create a double wall at a horizontal gap.  

Even if the enemy is not a thief, you do not want to be attacked from behind.  The enemy will enjoy a +2 to hit if it attacks your character from behind.

Staggering your characters diagonally gives the enemy more opportunities to attack, but it also gives you more holes to place attackers.  Having a straight line does the opposite.

Having missile weapon using characters behind the front lines can thin out the opposition before they can even get a chance to attack.  You can also kill enemy archers and spellcasters from a distance.

The pathfinding in Pool is decent, but it has its limitations.  If you have an L-shaped or U-shaped barrier between you and the enemy you may be able to get the enemy trapped behind it as the pathfinding algorithm fails to find a path it can use to get to attack your character.

Guarding, free attacks and surrender

Guarding is the classic way of having a character do nothing during his portion of the combat round.  However, it can also be a useful defensive mechanism.  If an enemy advances into the character's melee range, the character gets a free and automatic attack.  Additionally, if an enemy tries to retreat or move past your character, your character will get a free attack on that enemy.  The enemy can also do this if you move into or out of his melee range.  However, if you move into his range before he has a chance to guard, then you will not risk a free hit.

In this game, you do not always need to kill every enemy faced against you.  Typically, once you reduce their numbers sufficiently, often the survivors of the monsters will surrender.  You won't get the experience or treasure from killing them, but this will end a battle sooner than otherwise.  Some monsters like the undead are fanatical and will always fight to the last creature.  However, you may be able to do enough damage to a horde that it will surrender even though it still has the advantage of numbers.

Unfortunately, you cannot surrender once combat starts.  If you feel like you are getting overwhelmed, you may turn your back and flee to the edge of the map.  Depending on how many and how far the enemy is behind you, you may not be able to escape when you reach the edge.  Also, if you are engaged in melee combat you will invite multiple rear attacks as you move.  If you leave a dying character behind when you escape, that character will be dead and lost forever.

Missile weapons

Thieves are limited to slings and magic-users to darts.  Slings have unlimited ammo, darts do not.  Slings can do decent damage and have good range.  Darts are weak and have a short range.  A pure magic-user has a very low THAC0, so the darts may not seem worth the trouble considering how often the magic-user will miss.  Clerics cannot use missile weapons at all in Pool.

Bows can fire twice per round and darts can fire three times per round.  Long bows have a longer range than short bows, but do the same amount of damage.

If you encounter monsters and are able to select the Advance option, you may wish to consider starting combat immediately.  This way you will have a fair distance between you and the monsters.  This could give you one or two rounds where you may be able to attack with missile weapons and the enemy will be unable to respond.

The game will allow you to Ready a new weapon every combat round without penalty.  So you can shoot your bow until the enemy comes within melee range and then switch to your melee weapon and armor and attack that round.

THAC0 and Armor Class

An unamored character has an Armor Class (AC) of 10, and the lower the number, the better protected your character will be.  For your front line fighters, it is essential to maximize their AC if they are to survive.  This means plate armor and a shield and high dexterity.  At the beginning of the game, you won't be able to afford plate, so you will have to make do with chain or split or banded mail.   Even so, your fighters can start the game with a -1 AC, which will make many hits miss.  You lose the ability to use a shield with a two handed weapon, but a lower rate of being hit is a worthy trade off for the few extra points of damage you may inflict.  In the early part of the game, you should have fighters with a high strength score and you will be facing tons of Orcs, Goblins, Kobolds and the like which tend to overwhelm by numbers.  The more attacks you dodge, the longer you will last.  So I would not seek out two handed weapons until you start to find magical weapons.

THAC0 is affected mainly by strength and class.  All 1st level classes have a THAC0 of 20.  This means that you must roll a 20 on a (virtual) 20 sided die to score a hit on an enemy with an armor class of 0.  Male Human Fighters can immediately lower that score to 17 by the maximum exceptional strength score of 18/00.

In this game, regular Kobolds are probably the weakest enemies, with 3 HP and an AC of 7.  With a THAC0 of 17, which is the maximum you can have at the beginning of the game, you will be able to hit a Kobold only 55% of the time.  The hit percentage gets lower for Goblins, Orcs, Skeletons and Zombies. Unless you find some magic weapons, your THAC0 will not improve until your character is at least at level 3.

Specific Class Information - Fighters

Fighters acquire the ability to sweep at the 2nd level.  This allows them to attack more than one enemy in melee range with less than one hit die in a single attack.  So if a fighter is surrounded by Goblins or Kobolds, he can attack as many of them as he has experience levels.  Fighters can achieve up to level 8 and gain 1-10HP per level.  They can use any type of weapon, armor or shield.  They will also gain an extra half of an attack at level 7.

Specific Class Information - Cleric and Clerical Spells

Clerics can only use clubs, flail, hammer, mace and staff for a weapon.  Flails are the best, followed by maces.  They can use any type of armor and can use a shield.  Clerics can only reach level 6 in this game and 3rd level spells.  They gain 1-8HP per level.  They can Turn Undead, which if successful will make some of or all the undead flee, making the job of killing them safer if more tedious. They can turn Skeletons, Zombies, Ghouls and Wights at level 1, Wraiths at level 3, Mummies and level 4, Spectres at level 5 and Vampires at level 6. As they level up, the turning will become more likely to be successful.  Wights, Wraiths, Spectres and Vampires will cause a level drain with a successful attack, so you want to turn them as soon as possible.  If you lose a level to level drain, you cannot get it restored at a temple, you have to earn the level again or find some restoration scrolls.  Even so, the loss of XP can be very painful.

For 1st level spells, Cure Light Wounds is a must, it is the only healing spell a PC cleric can cast in the game.  Bless is also a good spell because it improves the THAC0 of everybody in your party by 1.  Hold Person is the best 2nd level spell because you can target up to three enemies with each casting of the spell. A held person can be killed with one cruel blow and the attack is an automatic hit.  Slow Poison may be necessary when fighting poisonous creatures.  You cannot cast Neutralize Poison in this game.  Prayer is probably the best 3rd level spell. it is a combination of Bless and Curse.

Specific Class Information - Magic-users and Magic-user spells

Magic-users start the game with four spells, read magic, detect magic, shield and sleep.  Each time they gain a level, they can learn one extra spell from any spell level they can cast, but only one spell can be added this way.  Magic-users can only reach level 6 in this game and 3rd level spells.  They only gain 1-4HP per level. At level 3 you can begin to cast 2nd level spells and at level 5 you can cast 3rd level spells.  I would suggest learning Magic Missile, Stinking Cloud, Mirror Image, Fireball and Haste.  Magic-users can only use daggers, darts or staffs and can wear no armor and use no shields, so look for bracers of defense.

Because of the hordes of opponents you will seemingly encounter in every battle, area effect spells are usually more useful than single-target spells.  Sleep is the best level 1 spell because, like Hold Person, it allows you to kill an enemy with a single cruel blow.  However, no saving throw is allowed, and it can affect up to 16 monsters.  Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, Hobgoblins, Gnolls, Lizardmen and even an Ogre may be affected.  It can affect your characters as well as the enemy, so make sure you do not target the spell at an enemy within a character's melee range.  Anchor the spell to an enemy behind the attacker.

Specific Class Information - Thieves

Thieves can use clubs, daggers, darts, slings, short swords, scimitars, long swords and broad swords. They can only wear leather armor but cannot use a shield.  Thieves can achieve up to level 9 and gain 1-6HP per level.

If a thief successfully hits with a back stab attack, he does double damage at levels 1-4, triple damage from levels 5-8 and quadruple damage at level 9.  A thief gets a +4 to hit with a back stab attack.  A thief can only backstab an opponent already being attacked. He must attack in the opposite direction from the opponent's first attacker.  More importantly, to avoid a monster turning toward the thief and ruining the backstab, make sure that the monster has attacked before the thief does.

The only thief abilities used in this game are the pick lock, find and remove trap and climb wall abilities. What you can pick you can usually bash with a strong fighter and there are not an overabundance of traps in this game.  Climb walls may be used once or twice.

Party composition

You can have six characters you directly control in your party and up to two NPCs or charmed or summoned monsters.  Every party should have two front line fighters, two healers, a character with thief abilities and at least one magic-user.  I have no love for hired NPCs, they cost money to hire, they take an automatic cut of all treasure, you cannot control them in combat and they do not like to give up items.  There are some NPCs that will assist you on a single mission, but that is plot related.

Looking in the Manuals

This game comes with a Rule Book, an Adventurer's Journal, a Quick Reference Card and a Codewheel.  The Adventurer's Journal contains the Proclamations, Tavern Tales and Journal Entries, maps and some tables.  You will need the Codewheel to translate some elven or dwarven runes at least at one point during the game.  Even if you crack the copy protection you should still keep it handy.

If you want to know more about the probable game mechanics, you should have your three volume set of AD&D 1st Edition rulebooks at your disposal.  You can find all the rules and tables not explicitly mentioned in the Pool materials there.  They can be relied upon except where contradicted by the Pool materials or when its obvious that the game does not implement the rules.  You can find more complete statistics for the monsters in the Monster Manual or the Dungeon Master's Guide with a few exceptions.  Statistics for the Drider, Mantis, Quickling, Thri-kreen can be found in the Monster Manual II.  The other 1st Edition Rulebooks do not appear to be used in Pool.


bleuge* said...

Thanks for this kind of hints, it's difficult to find something like that,
apart for general solves, maps, etc...
Maybe you want to read crpgaddict's blog, and playthrough these golde box games
it's the best classic rpg blog!

Great Hierophant said...

I have read some of crpgaddict's blog, and I have taken the approach to Pool of Radiance to try to avoid repeating his exhaustive account of his experience playing through the game.

newtmonkey said...

I have no way of verifying this, but I have heard that maximizing (or even modifying) your stats in this game scales the difficulty up by throwing more enemies into each encounter. When I played the game, I just rerolled until I got decent stats and dealt with it, and even at the beginning I didn't have much trouble at all with most encounters... I didn't play the game until the end, so I have no idea if this is true all the way through.

Great Hierophant said...

I have read that elsewhere. I played with a close to maxed out ability score party and I could understand that the hordes felt a bit packed. Maybe I will try it with a more average party the next time.