Pool of Radiance: Documentation

One peculiar thing about Pool of Radiance: A lot of the game’s text isn’t in the game. Every once in a while, it directs you to read a passage from the manual: there’s a section of the manual for journal entries you can find, and a section for proclamations posted outside the town hall, and even a section of tavern rumors, all tagged with identifiers referenced in the game content. The player is more or less on the honor system to not read ahead (although there are apparently red herrings sprinkled in amongst the legitimate content to mislead the cheaters). And that’s fine by me; these days, with walkthroughs for nearly everything readily available online, we’re always on the honor system.

While it isn’t common practice today to leave in-game text out of the game, Pool of Radiance is not unique in this regard. For example, Wasteland, PoR‘s contemporary in the post-apocalyptic sci-fi genre, did something similar, with important plot events described in a big list of numbered paragraphs. The very first CRPG I ever played, Temple of Apshai, had printed descriptions of each room, in imitation of the style of D&D modules. Presumably the same inspiration applies in part here, but Apshai at least had the additional excuse of being really, really old. I’ve described Wizardry and Ultima as the foundations of the CRPG genre, but Apshai predates them both; it just wasn’t as influential (and for good reasons). It was originally written for the TRS-80, with all its limitations, and shipped on a cassette tape rather than floppy disks: moving as much data as possible out of the executable and into the manual was a practical matter. (It even went to the extreme of putting treasure on the honor system. When you returned from the dungeon, you were expected to look up how much all your collected items were worth and type in the sum.) For PoR and Wasteland, which routinely contain text passages without this look-it-up-in-the-manual nonsense, the motivation probably had more to do with casual piracy. Copying disks was easy and essentialy costless — floppy disks are reusable. But not so the manual — at least not in the 1980s, when scanners were scarce.

Mind you, photocopiers were plentiful. But the cost of photocopying the text pages (in both money and time) increases with the number of pages copied. This would give the designers a motivation to make the game text items as long as possible, and sure enough, they occupy the bulk of the PoR manual. Notably, they take up the space that old fantasy RPGs normally devote to spell lists.

Bulky spell lists are another thing that the genre got from D&D, so it’s a little ironic that they’re crammed onto a single page here in the first official D&D adaptation — both magic-user and cleric spells together, taking up less total space than the damage stats for all the polearms. All that’s listed is the spell names, not what they do. I guess you’re expected to already be familiar with the effects from playing D&D, but D&D has changed a lot in the last twenty years, so I’m left guessing about some of them. “Friends”? There was a spell called “Friends” in 1e? (It’s a charisma buff, it turns out.) “Spiritual Hammer” seems to create a hammer in the caster’s inventory, but I have no idea what its advantages are over a normal weapon. “Read Magic” seems straightforward, but casting it has not enabled me to tell what spells are on the scrolls I’ve found — perhaps I’m just doing the wrong thing in the UI?

[Added 6 February 2010] OK, it turns out that The Forgotten Realms Archives (the anthology package I’m playing from) contains more documentation than I knew about. The Gold Box games apparently had three pieces of printed documentation: the Reference Card, the Journal, and the Manual. This anthology comes with a thick printed book containing the Reference Cards and the Journals. The Manuals are on the CD, in PCX format, with a DOS-based viewer — I think I prefer the HTML transcription that Jason Dyer links to in the comments below. They include a great deal of gameplay information that I had been missing — not just the spell descriptions, but things like race/class limitations and what exactly all the menu options are supposed to do. I wish I had known about this while I was creating my characters.

3 Comments so far

  1. Jason Dyer on 6 Feb 2010

    This version of the manual includes spell descriptions:


  2. Jason Dyer on 6 Feb 2010

    Spiritual Hammer:

    This is a combat spell which creates a temporary magic item, automatically Readied. It can strike at range and does normal hammer damage. It strikes monsters that only magical weapons can affect. This lasts for 1 round per level of caster.

  3. malkav11 on 6 Feb 2010

    I had the same trouble with the Realms of Arkania trilogy’s manuals, except that while I have a pretty good idea of what many D&D spells do (due to long experience with the game), I have no frickin’ clue what most Das Schwarze Auge spells do. The names aren’t very helpful either. “Lightning”, iirc, actually zaps the target with a blinding flash of light in the face.

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