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In a lengthy editorial, The CRPG Addict provides an in-depth analysis of "why the economy sucks in the SSI Gold Box games", with a focus on the lack of use for gold and other coinage in the RPG titles, the mechanics that SSI ignored that contributed to this, how the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition ruleset could have been better leveraged to provide an array of economical options, and much more. A few key takeaways from the article:
Unfortunately, as many fans know, there is one glaring flaw in these games: they essentially lack any sort of useful economy. Money, in almost every game in the series, is essentially useless, because of the fact that the party is given copious amounts of it, at every turn, as a reward. Unlike most other games of the era, there is simply nothing worthwhile to spend money on. In an average play-through your party will throw away literal mountains of copper, silver, gold and platinum.
My goal, in this article, is to examine the how's and why's of this situation, and to essentially assign responsibility for this state of affairs as I see it. During the course of this post we will discuss several points about these games. SSI's company line that they were forced to use the rules as written, the changes made by SSI to the written rules, how money sinks were avoided, and how they clearly followed treasure tables, while ignoring written rules in the DMG that were supposed to be used in conjunction with said tables.
Alternatively, a character or monster may choose to move into melee range without utilizing a charge. If this option is taken, no attacks may be made by the moving party as the round is spent closing into melee range carefully while fending off any "attacks of opportunity."
SSI completely ignored these rules in the Gold Box games. There is no charge maneuver. Characters can move into melee range, without an attack of opportunity by their opponent even if said opponent has a longer weapon, and then perform a standard melee attack. [Ed: is the ability of characters and monsters to "Guard" in the SSI games related to rules about charging and setting weapons? Or was this a separate action in the tabletop rules?]
Given the risk associated with a charge, this change has a dramatic impact on the pace and nature of combat. One can move into melee multiple times in a round, if multiple attacks are available, in an SSI game. One cannot do so in the rules as written. The written rules allow a set of units effectively to block access to a more vulnerable unit; without those rules, it becomes easier for units to target vulnerable foes without a chance of impediment. Thus, these changes drastically alter the feel and flow of combat.
This was likely done because the average CRPG gamer would have seen that set of terms as unacceptable. “I have to move to the monster and just sit there a round before I can attack?! Wtf?!” would likely have been a common reaction.
More complex items are explicitly excluded from creation. Any of the Manuals that provide XP or improve stats cannot be created, nor can items like the Hammer of Thunderbolts. There is little codification as to which items are supposed to be excluded. This is again left to the DM to determine.
It is a bit disappointing that these rules were excluded from the Gold Box games. In Curse of the Azure Bonds, for instance, a sage in each town might have sold a magic item recipe for a high price. You could then undergo the required steps to make that item, if it seemed worthwhile, burning more money in the process and perhaps taking the mage character out of commission for part of the gameplay. [Ed: I'm thinking of a system that combines the way weapons and armor are created in The Magic Candle with the way characters must leave the party to work regular jobs.]
That being said, this is a completely understandable change. As-is, a mage does not have direct access to "Permanency" until they can cast 8th level spells, so it’s omission outside of Pools of Darkness and Dark Queen of Krynn is in line with the games' own power curve. If they had included a magic item creation process in those games, they would have also needed to provide "Permanency" scrolls.