The world of AD&D on your Commodore

BC_thumbIn the early 90s, I got introduced to the wonderful world of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) by a friend at school. He had a game called Champions of Krynn, developed by SSI for the Commodore 64, and he gave it to me over the Christmas holidays so I could have a go at it. I played it nearly every day – with Enigma’s MCMXC music set on continuous repeat in the background (Enigma were the ones that used Gregorian chants and added a modern day beat to it) – and got so immersed in this world of magic, dragons and heroic warriors that I was hooked; I had found my favorite kind of game: the role-playing game or RPG as it is commonly referred to.

When I completed the game, I rushed out to the computer shop to see if they had any other AD&D games for sale and sure enough, they had Curse of the Azure Bonds (CotAB). Along with the game, I purchased the novel by Kate Novak and Jeff Grub and was totally blown away to see this game relive some of the moments of the book (which I read in just a few days). All the characters, locations and even some of the events were familiar (just like the protagonists in the novel, your party of adventurers in the CotAB game was faced with the same challenges as they had in the book).

This was for me, if I wasn’t already hooked for the full 100% to the genre, the thing that clinched it for me: The perfect translation of the wonderful worlds created in the Forgotten Realms saga (and Dragonlance for the Krynn games) to a system like the C64.



Typical box contents of an AD&D game: disks, books and a translation wheel you had to use to answer a question before you could play the game (copy protection)

Now for those of you not familiar with RPG games, the original concept was more a pen and paper style game, with one player preparing a dungeon and setting up a storyline (he’s called the dungeon master or DM), and the other players creating their characters with given abilities and entering the dungeon governed by the DM. The DM would unleash hordes of monsters, set traps and hide treasure that the other players would have to discover. Now since there’s no real ‘board’, most of it depends on the capabilities of the DM to make it into a challenging game as the outcomes of the encounters were decided by the roll of the dice and the game itself unfolded by the storytelling of the DM. Many DM guides have been published over the years, allowing the players to get a better feel for the fantasy world they were playing in and of course, aiding in the storytelling for the DM.


In the computerized version of the RPG, you basically started out with a party of up to six player characters that you could choose yourself. The characters could be of various races (human, elf, dwarf, …) and class (paladin, thief, ranger, …). Depending on these combinations, your characters started out with a certain amount of hit points (how much of a beating you can take), armor class (shielding basically) and several other attributes like dexterity, intelligence, etc. All of this influenced the strengths and the capabilities of your party in handling the various events you had to face in the game (part of the fun for me was to complete the game again with a party made up of different characters and see if I could perform better than the previous try).
The neat thing about the SSI AD&D games was that you could transfer characters from a previous game to the new one, so if you started out with a party in Champions of Krynn, you could re-use them in the sequel, Death Knights of Krynn, so you could continue the adventure with your favorite characters.
The interface of the game (the techie bit), had the main adventuring action using a first person perspective. In the top left window you could view the current location, with the status panel on the right and the commands along the bottom. Through these commands, you could select a wide range of actions and tasks including spell-casting, swapping weapons, or resting and memorizing spells.


During combat (there usually is a lot of combat in fantasy games), the screen display changed: the right half of the screen is became the status panel, and the left half displayed an overhead view of the combat.
The game engine is referred to as the “Gold Box” engine (as the games traditionally came packed in gold-colored boxes).

Although the screenshots above may look dated by today’s modern RPG standards, you must not forget that although the games were published on PC, Amiga and various other more powerful platforms than the C64 as well, I still think the C64 versions were the best. Call it nostalgia, but to cram a whole world of role-playing, that even offered a dash of non-linear gameplay (*) on just 3 double-sided disks and have it executed wonderfully on a 64K system, is nothing short of magic to me.

Next to these epic AD&D RPGs, SSI developed a whole range of games that were either more action or strategy based, but all set in the same mysterious worlds of the Dragonlance and Krynn sagas. Games like Dragonstrike had you fighting hordes of enemy dragonriders high up in the skies of Krynn amidst the flying citadels. The game Hillsfar was set just before the events in CoTAB and just after those of the prequel, Pool of Radiance (PoR), and focused on exploring the great city of Hillsfar. The cool thing was that you could use one of your characters from PoR or CoTAB to play the game.


If strategy and war games was more your thing, you could play War of the Lance and lead the armies of good against the evil hordes that came out of Neraka and its surroundings. Your band of heroes could go on magical quests to find the golden dragons to aid you in your battles. Your emissaries could go to the neutral lands and try to convince their leaders to join your cause (if you played it right, you could even get some of the countries that would normally be considered “evil” in the world of Krynn to side with you – I remember for instance have the goblins of Throtyl and the minotaurs of Mithas as my allies).

As time went by, SSI (sold to Mindscape in 1994) sadly decided to stop making the games for the C64 and only continued these for the Amiga, PC, and other more “modern” platforms. This meant that certain series saw their volumes spread across several platforms, with PoR, CoTAB and Secret of the Silver Blades running on the C64 (and other platforms) and then the fourth volume, Pools of Darkness not being released on the C64 anymore. Luckily, many were still being released for the Amiga (like Eye of the Beholder I and II) so there still was a large base of games to enjoy on the Commodore platforms, and I’ve been trying to collect every single SSI AD&D that’s been released for the Commodore platform ever since I started my Commodore collection. So far, I have them all; except for 2 titles that elude me and that I’ve never seen on eBay and the likes. The PC versions, sure they’re on sale, but the Amiga ones, no these seem almost like a myth. The games are called Pools of Darkness and Dark Queen of Krynn (Volumes 4 and Volumes 3 of the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance sagas). If you have them and want to part with them, then be sure to get in touch with me… the spaces on the shelf are reserved!


The Savage Frontier Saga, with the 2nd volume not being released on the C64

As mentioned already, the games were always set in some kind of mystical world, that had been created by writers like Novak and Grubb, but perhaps the best known writers duo for the stories set in the worlds of dragons and wizards, is Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Between them, they’ve probably written hundreds of books, and I can strongly recommend them if you want to immerse yourself more into this realm of fantasy.


And if like me, you’re an avid board game fan, be sure to check out some of the games that have an AD&D themed setting. Lords of Waterdeep for me is a must play as it combines solid gameplay with a great AD&D theme.


And now, it’s time for me to play some AD&D!

(*) The games featured a flavor of non-linear gameplay, with hidden side adventures like in CoTAB with the grand “Meeting of the Beholders” in which you had to face (for those familiar with the monsters in these games): 8 Rakshasa, 10 High Priests, 10 Drow Lords, and 15 Beholders in a single room.
Death Knights of Krynn gave you, when you completed the game, a secret passage in the mountains leading to a maze that was described as follows in the clue book:
“Congratulations! You’ve completed the quest and Lord Soth has been banished from Krynn. But there’s one more challenge to undertake. In the upper left hand corner of the map, a path has opened through the mountains…
One of SSI’s game authors has earned a reputation for designing ‘killer’ mazes and encounters. Do you remember the brain parasites in Buck Rogers, or the rescue of the nomad princess in Pool of Radiance? Customarily, we’ve toned down these encounters before the publication of the games.
This time is different.
This time we encouraged him to go ahead and do his worst. Good luck.”


Dragonlance Series


Forgotten Realms Series


Legend Series


More games set in the AD&D world

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3 Responses to The world of AD&D on your Commodore

  1. The only gold box game I played was The Dark Queen of Krynn. I played it in an old Macintosh computer called an LC III. Lots of fun. Recently, I’ve gotten the Mac to emulate the c64. Trying out the old god box games for the first time now.

  2. Summary: List of Commodore 64 AD&D Games:

    – Champions of Krynn
    – Curse of the Azure Bonds
    – Death Knights of Krynn
    – Dragons of Flame
    – DragonStrike
    – Gateway to the Savage Frontier
    – Heroes of the Lance
    – Hillsfar
    – Pool of Radiance
    – Secret of the Silver Blades
    – War of the Lance

  3. Good article!

    Also, good news, “Eye of the Beholder” is being converted to the Commodore 64!!

    Check it out…

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