SotSB: Overall Patterns of Progress

Okay, I know I said that I was only going to give Secret of the Silver Blades one more day, but I’m giving it an extension. I’ve been making very rapid progress, and have reason to believe that I’m on the verge of getting all the way through the glacier crevasses (home to ice giants and their pet mastodons) and reaching Castle Endgame. I may be farther from the end than I think I am, but, as is often the case, the perception that I’m close to the end is spurring me to greater activity. Just as getting stuck in a game is demoralizing and makes one less inclined to pursue it enough to get unstuck, so does progress beget more progress. There’s probably a lesson for life in that.

Another thing that supports the idea that I’m almost at the end: most of my characters are level 15, which is the maximum experience level supported by this game (except for thieves, who are allowed up to level 18). My paladin is a little behind the others, because paladins need a lot more experience to level than other classes in the second-edition rules. (The idea that the experience per level varies with character class was eliminated in third edition, as part of a general effort to simplify things and reduce the number of tables needed, but that hadn’t happened yet when this game was written.) Similarly, the fighter/thief has the handicap of splitting experience between two classes.

If there’s one thing I’ve gotten from playing this entire series so far, it’s a greater appreciation of the structure of progress in (second-edition) D&D, including its failures. Magic-users turn from near wastes of space to the main thing that wins fights for you, but in the process go through a lengthy phase when they do nearly nothing but cast Fireball. Clerics become less and less useful in melee as the actual warrior-types outpace them. Fighters spend a lot of their time nearly unhittable, due to finding better and better equipment — although this is punctuated by periods of hittability, when you start encountering tougher foes that you don’t have the appropriate armor for yet. And for all classes, gaining experience levels means a great deal more at the low end. No spell I’ve learned has been as much of a game-changer as getting Fireball at level 5; no increase in the number of spell slots has been as significant as being able to cast Fireball twice at level 6. Hit points increase by an average of 100% when you attain level 2, but only 7% when you attain level 15.

It’s a lot easier to notice patterns like these in the Gold Box games than in live D&D. Partly this is because I’m playing all classes at once: in live sessions, I generally only focus on my own character. Also, having the computer take care of the details of the game mechanics frees up one’s mind to focus on the effects. Mainly, though, the experience is highly compressed. I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a D&D group that met more than once a week, but even if I spent as much of my time on live D&D as I’ve been spending on these computer games, it wouldn’t go as fast. Combat is resolved much faster here, and the whole system seems to be set up to accelerate leveling, whether through quest XP or through gratuitous XP-yielding treasure finds. Those ice giants that I mentioned carry enormous quantities of platinum — far too much to carry, even if I still had a use for more riches at this point, but it does artificially inflate the experience reward for the encounter.

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