Secret of the Silver Blades is the third game in the four-part series that had begun with Pool of Radiance. It is part of SSI's Gold Box series of games based on TSR's Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rules and set in the Forgotten Realms.
Although this is the third part of the series, the gameplay mechanics have not changed. Only the setting has changed by introducing a new campaign set in the frozen North of the Forgotten Realms.
A small number of changes have been implemented:
- Slightly improved graphics
- Level 7 spells are now available to Mages
- Clerics can now access Level 6 spells
- Players could import characters from Curse of the Azure Bonds
- No Overworld travel is available in this game
Players starting fresh with this game did not need a previous party to enjoy it, although the difficulty level for the main campaign is made somewhat easier with a seasoned party. A pre-made party is available for use and new characters begin with an experience bonus to boost them up to the recommended minimum level required to survive the initial challenges.
The game continues to use the grid-based, 3D system wherein the world is viewed from a first-person perspective with 90° turns and movement spaces. As with nearly every Gold Box game, party members were displayed in the upper right hand corner along with hit points and armor class. Random enemy encounters would provide combat opportunities within the game against mixed groups of foes, providing experience.
When combat would start, it would become a tactical turn-based system with the battlefield viewed from an isometric perspective. Every member of the party including each monster were shown as individual icons that had a limited number of moves onscreen. The player was challenged to maneuver their party on the map, take cover behind obstacles such as wells, or even block doorways and act as tanks in order to protect their spellcasters.
Critics (and players) had complained about the cumbersome use of the translation wheel that had been included with both Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds as a means of copy protection. As a result of their criticism, SSI decided to scrap the translation wheel in favor of a challenge word system. When the game is started, a verification question is shown which directed the player to find the indicated word answer in either the rule book (the manual) or the included Adventurer's Journal. The disks themselves did not have any copy protection allowing players to make copies and play on them instead.
As with the previous games, there was an extensive amount of documentation included with the package:
- A basic manual with setup instructions and an outline of the rules
- An Adventurer's Journal going into detail on the races, classes, and the magic system of the game
- A Quick Reference card for commands
The party arrives in the town of New Verdigris, sans their belongings, thanks to having been teleported there by the magic of the Well of Knowledge. The townspeople are responsible for their condition. In desperation, they had dumped all of the gems that they had mined from the nearby valley into it's waters and made a wish for saviors to come to New Verdigris. The Well answered their request, albeit to the stricteest letter of the wish and brought the party—and only the party—over.
The townspeople quickly take them by wagon to New Verdrigris where they explain the situation and give them some money to buy new equipment to replace that which they had lost. It seems that the town is under attack by savage monsters that are slowly taking over the mine that is their life's blood. But this is a story that begins nearly three centuries earlier.
Two brothers, Eldamar and Oswulf, constructed a castle in the valley overlooking a prosperous mine that would enable the founding of the original town of Verdigris. For twenty five years, the town prospered under the brothers' guidance. Unfortunately, it was not to last.
Eldamar was a mage of no small measure and as he grew older, he feared the end that death would bring and began to research ways to cheat it. He would study on how to become a lich, an undead mage retaining all that he had learned. It was a corruption of life and, thus, an act of evil, but he was determined to undergo the transformation. However, as he neared the end of his studies, Oswulf discovered his work.
Appalled and horrified, Oswulf attempted to steer him away from his decision. However, he was too late. One night soonafter, Eldamar completed the ritual and became a lich.
Even then, Oswulf could not bring himself to slay his brother. He fled the castle and formed a group of adventurers - the Silver Blades - to find a way to imprison him. In the meantime, Eldamar saw this as a warning of the death he might still face. As a response, he called upon evil creatures to defend him and took on the name of Dreadlord.
Eldamar's creatures laid waste to the town of Verdigris as everyone fled for their lives and as paranoia gripped Eldamar, he filled the castle he and his brother had built with lethal traps to protect himself. Oswulf and his group, however, were finally ready to confront the lich. They forced Eldamar's creatures from the town and made their way to the castle.
But Oswulf still refused to raise a sword against Eldamar. And so, the mages and clerics that he had brought together cast a mighty spell. The enchantment encased the valley beneath an impregnable glacier, freezing everything within for all time. Oswulf sacrificed his own life to stand guard as a spirit over the castle's gate, forever to watch over it.
The spell, however, did not catch all of Eldamar's followers by surprise. Some had been outside of the valley when it was frozen and saw what had become of their master. Determined to free him, they studied the enchantment, probed it, and attacked it until finally their descendants, now known as the Black Circle, managed to break it fifteen years ago. The glacier began to melt.
Verdigris Valley, even after three centuries, was still home to many miners hoping to make their fortunes within the slopes of the mountains there. When the glacier began to melt, it would also reveal the mine that had brought wealth to Old Verdigris and they soon re-opened its shafts. New Verdigris was founded and the gems began to flow back out. However, the Black Circle's influence had also pushed the miners to open even deeper shafts into the mine, expanding it, and soon their subtle machinations bore fruit a month ago.
The miners pushed deeper into the mountain until they had broken through into the dungeon of the old castle, releasing the monsters that were frozen there. They stood little chance against these terrors and so brought all of their wealth to the Well of Knowledge to make the wish they hoped would save them.
Upon arrival, several problems immediately confront the party outside of their need for armor and weapons. The first of these is Marcus, the local mage who runs the magic store in New Verdigris. He also happens to be a secret member of the Black Circle. The other problem is that an ancient red dragon has taken over the Well of Knowledge shortly after the party arrives. After dealing with these, the adventurers go on to explore the ruins of Old Verdigris where they recover the Amulet of Eldamar and assault the headquarters of the Black Circle deep within its ruins.
When they have broken the Black Circle's power on the surface, they head down into the mines where they meet an ancient dwarven cleric named Derf Strongarm within a temple dedicated to Tyr. As the last of the Silver Blades, he was tasked with protecting the Temple and in ensuring that it was warded against the Dreadlord. He can no longer leave the temple, but he urges the party to stop the Black Circle before it can successfully free the Dreadlord. To do so, they must collect the eight pieces of the Staff of Oswulf and reforge it.
The pieces lie scattered within the mine and once they collect them all and reforge it, they are ready to enter the dungeon beneath the Castle. Making their way through the Dungeon and in defeating its many challenges including a mad spirit that challenges them with deadly riddles, they make their way into the glacier. There, they face giants, driders, and more of the Black Circle before arriving at the castle.
Fighting their way upwards through its many levels and the traps that Eldamar had filled it with before the Valley was encased in ice, they finally confront Eldamar. Defeating him, they search out the soul gem within which his spirit is anchored. They destroy it, freeing Eldamar from his self-imposed curse, and watch as both he and his brother, Oswulf, ascend at last into the afterlife.
Secret of the Silver Blades follows after the events of Curse of the Azure Bonds, although experience with that game isn't necessary to enjoy this one. The same Gold Box engine that was created for Pool of Radiance continues to see use with few changes outside of an entirely different campaign than that of its predecessor.
The party arrives at the town of New Verdigris as a result of the wish that the townspeople had made of the Well of Knowledge. However, as a result of how the spell was worded, the Well brings the party to New Verdigris without their equipment in a creative twist to the mechanic that strips imported parties of most of their goods as a balancing method against making the game too easy. At that point, imported parties will need to re-acquire another collection of arms and armor just as they had in Curse of the Azure Bonds.
A vault is provided in New Verdigris for the players to store extra equipment and convert any platinum they find into gems which are useful with the Well of Knowledge.
All of the gameplay mechanics are based on the 2nd edition of the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset, otherwise known as AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) from TSR.
Six races are available for players to choose from and is the first step in creating a new character and a party of seven adventurers with which to go out and save the world. Players can now select what kind of sex their character is which has no effect on their abilities, only in their appearance for the character portrait.
The races did not undergo any significant changes and had been presented in the same way as before in Pool of Radiance:
- Dwarves: Excellent warriors and often considered the best blacksmiths within the Forgotten Realms, they also harbor a strong hate for giants and their diminutive nature allows them to dodge their attacks much easier. They are also a hardy race and able to resist the effects of magic and poison.
- Elves: Long lived and resistant to sleep and charm spells, elves are often considered among the best spellcasters in the Realms although they are also skilled with a sword. They cannot be resurrected, however, but they can multi-class in many more different combinations than others.
- Half-elves: These share the hardiness of their human half along with the sleep and charm resistances of their elven parent, but not their long lives. And like their elven parents, are capable of noticing things out of the ordinary.
- Gnomes: These are treated as shorter and slimmer versions of dwarves in the game, although they tend to be a little better as thieves.
- Halflings: Resistant to magic and poison, they are about half the size of humans and can make decent fighters and thieves.
- Human: The most common race in the Forgotten Realms, they are average in most respects but have no major weaknesses, either. Capable of dual classing.
Each character has a set of basic attributes that affect various abilities, such as combat prowess and how many spells a magic user can memorize before they must rest and re-acquire their spells once again. During character creation, the player may re-roll as many times as they want. Prime requisite attributes are those that are a requirement for certain classes. For example, Fighters must have a good Strength score in order to be effective.
The natural maximum for any attribute is an 18, although it can go higher depending on factors such as race and magical effects. Throughout the game, unless it is due to an outside intervention such as a spell or a piece of equipment, these attributes never change even when a character levels.
- Strength (STR) - determines physical power and damage with weapons; also affects encumbrance in combat
- Dexterity (DEX) - reflexes and the ability to remain hard to hit in combat; affects ranged weapons such as bows as well as a thief's abilities
- Constitution (CON) - a character's health is determined by this and hit points are derived from this score and a bonus calculated against it with every level. This also determines a character's chances for coming back to life with a resurrection spell, but in the process, a point of constitution is permanently lost.
- Charisma (CHA) - affects the perception that others have of a character
- Intelligence (INT) - affects the ability to reason and think. This is an important score for magic users as it determines how many spells they can memorize and use per level.
- Wisdom (WIS) - this is important to clerics and determines how many spells they can store in memory and use
Attributes, such as Strength and Dexterity, are also affected by the selection of race and certain bonuses and minuses are spread across them as a result. For examples, dwarves are inherently stronger than the other races and, thus, have a bonus to their Strength and Constitution scores.
AD&D's alignment system determines what a character's outlook is. Players can choose what alignment their character starts off with, although actions within the game can slowly shift it. Certain character classes are very much restricted to certain alignments.
The alignment system remains unchanged from its previous implementation in Pool of Radiance:
- Lawful Good - Characters that are based on this alignment strictly interpret the rules and respect order above all else for the benefit of everyone
- Lawful Neutral - Moderation is far more important than the extreme, balancing their decisions between good and evil
- Lawful Evil - The strong survive to enslave the weak, but one must rule in order to conquer and order must keep those that follow this character in line. An army is always stronger than a mob.
- Neutral Good - Some rules are needed along with the freedom to decide what is best depending on the situation at hand
- True Neutral - Everything must be balanced; both good and evil have their place and neither must overcome the other
- Neutral Evil - Law and chaos aren't as important as the results in bringing evil to the world
- Chaotic Good - Random actions and the freedom to implement them are more important than the rules in valuing life and ensuring the welfare of others
- Chaotic Neutral - Randomness and chaos are more preferable to being evil or good
- Chaotic Evil - This character will go to any lengths to grab power and influence, disregarding anything that may make sense or in cooperating with others to achieve their goals. Unpredictable and ruthless.
Gender is treated only as a cosmetic choice in the game as with many others, but race plays a major part in determining what classes a character may be restricted in playing as. The game allows dual and even triple classing among characters depending on certain options such as race.
From the stock of basic classes, players can pick from certain combinations, although experience is divided among the classes that a character belongs to. As a result, they level much more slowly than a character dedicated to a single class.
The basic classes are:
- Fighters - They can fight with any armor or weapons, but have no magical ability. When they reach 7th level, they can get an extra attack per round.
- Paladins - These are holy fighters whose faith gives them resistances to spells and poison. They can also turn undead creatures as a cleric can at two levels below their current level. They have an aura that repels evil much like a Protection from Evil spell. They also gain the ability to Cure Disease once a week and can heal themselves of two points of damage per day. They can also use cleric spells when they reach 9th level. However, they must be Lawful Good and have more attribute restrictions than a fighter does.
- Rangers - They are a fighter and can defend themselves without the need for armor and weapons if need be. They do bonus damage against giant-sized creatures and must be of good alignment.
- Thieves - They can disarm traps, undo locks, and help themselves to anything that isn't well protected. They can't wear any armor heavier than leather, but they can backstab in combat for critical damage.
- Clerics - Fighting priests that can wield a mace, but no edged or pointed weapons, as well as use armor. They pray for their spells and automatically memorize any of the spells available for a level when they reach it.
- Magic Users - Powerful spellcasters are always welcome in any party. They start out weak and remain physically fragile throughout their careers, but the powers they command at higher levels can rend parties of monsters apart in the blink of an eye. Nothing like a little human-sized artillery to bring onto a battlefield.
Non-human characters can multi-class with a mix of these to enhance their abilities by sharing skills across them, although they level up at a slower rate because of the experience distribution across different disciplines.
There is no Overworld map in this game, but New Verdigris has a number of locations that the players will find useful as they explore the valley:
- Inns - These provide a safe place to rest although it will cost some coin.
- Shops - A variety of supplies such as armor, healing salves, and nearly anything else that the party may need can be purchased here. Inventory changes from time to time.
- Temple - Where healing and resurrections can take place if the party has enough coin to donate. Resurrections are particularly expensive.
- Bar - Visiting one of these allows the player to catch up on the latest news and gossip within an area
- Vault - The party can store extra equipment here as well as convert platinum coins into gems for the Well of Knowledge.
The Well of Knowledge, once freed from the ancient red dragon that had taken it over after the party's arrival, is also useful as a source of important information. By paying it gems, the players can ask it a number of questions and receive answers to them. It proves particularly useful in solving the riddles of the mad spirit within the Dungeon area of the game.
The Gold Box RPGs had standardized themselves with a basic system that was shared across most of the party-based entries. The interface both for party management and information display were similar across titles such as this one making it easier for veterans to get into the game and creating a similar look.
Fighting in the game continues to be handled through random and set encounters wherein experience, items, and gold are earned. When combat begins, an isometric view (the combat map) is presented with every member and attacking monster shown as an icon.
It is a turn based system with each side taking their turns to maneuver and issue commands. This tactical approach, in conjunction with the obstacles present onscreen such as walls and doorways, allowed the player to create their own strategies.
Initiative played an important role in determining who goes first. Each round is divided into ten segments and every character and foe act on a specific segment determined by their initiative. Actions can be delayed and held until the end of round and the computer can fight for the player using the Quick command.