Pool of Radiance: End Boss

Here’s a phenomenon that I think most D&D players are familiar with. Let’s say you’re in a situation best handled with subtlety of some sort. It can be stealth, or deceit, or careful manipulation of the physical environment — the details don’t really matter as long as you have some way of accomplishing your goals without combat. The phenomenon is that it basically never works. No matter how carefully you plan, you’re going to slip up somehow, either by an unlucky roll of the dice or just by not anticipating the consequences of your actions, and wind up fighting the guards or whatever. D&D is just biased that way.

The endgame of Pool of Radiance is kind of like that, except that when things go pear-shaped you can always go back to an earlier save and try again. Getting into the castle’s central hedge maze to confront the end boss without setting off any alarms took me multiple tries, and actually defeating the boss took several more — in fact, it took a few tries just to get through his guards, a team of level-8 fighters. Understand that this game does not permit the possibility of simply overpowering these guys by force of superior experience level. The entire game caps experience level at 6 for clerics and magic users, 8 for fighters, and 9 for thieves. I had been relying almost exclusively on direct-damage spells for most of the game’s plot-significant fights, but the most powerful offensive spell you can learn — Fireball — although good for clearing out roomfuls of orcs in a single cast, just doesn’t do enough damage to win the final fight fast enough. To beat the boss, you have to really know what you’re doing — and on your first attempt, you don’t. You don’t even know you’re about to fight the boss until you stumble into his room once, and you really need to buff up before you do that.

The boss, incedentally, is known as “the boss” within the game itself. It comes off as a little meta, but really, it’s an attempt to create a sense of mystery about who’s actually pulling the strings. In a sense, though, the authors have told you who the boss is before you even start playing. I haven’t talked about the meaning of the title: within the gameworld, the Pool of Radiance is a legend akin to the Holy Grail, something elusive and sought after, granting great power to those who find it. And, like in some versions of the Grail legend, it’s capable of transporting itself from place to place. Some of the bad guys are looking for the Pool of Radiance, but the end boss, in a sense, is the Pool of Radiance — or rather, the demon that possesses anyone foolish enough to dive into its waters. So, really not so much Holy Grail as One Ring.

Anyway, it’s with some relief that I remove the first game from the Stack this year. I had a lot of negative things to say about Pool of Radiance, but it does an admirable job of putting all its RPGisms into a sensible context in which everything has a reason to be the way it is. Even the monsters frequently have some larger goal they’re trying to achieve by attacking you, rather than doing so just because they’re monsters. Next up: the sequel.

1 Comment so far

  1. danowar on 16 Feb 2010

    Congrats! My personal stack is as huge as can be, hopefully one day I will get below 300 unfinished games *g* *cough*

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