This article originally appeared in Pyramid #9

Pyramid Pick


Published by Goldtree Enterprises
Designed by Luke Ahearn
Retail Price: $44.95 for IBM PCs

We pulled into Kingspoint late, almost midnight. The weather was clear and cool, with a slight southeastern breeze wafting through the streets and alleys of the city. We entered the city through the north gate, and (as is our custom) headed straight for the Raven's Nest Tavern. The Nest isn't your typical tavern -- it's located in the heart of the Temple District, so it tends to attract a slightly better class of clientele than, say, the Thebien (not that the Thebien is shabby, mind you, but non-desert folk tend to have the shoes stolen off their feet before the arrival of the first ale there). In spite of the Nest's address -- 101 Death -- it's a nice place that makes you feel like you don't need your back to the wall while inside.

Nebber Ack Bar was at his usual post behind the bar, his green turban trying mostly successfully to keep his long hair out of the drinks he poured. Nellie recognized us and set up our usual ale. We bellied up to the bar and looked around. The place was kind of slow for midnight; sometimes you come in and find a dozen madly drunk nomads flinging blades around in some sort of crazy knife dance that, miraculously, only kills one or two people a year. Tonight the place was nearly deserted except for a suspicious looking human in chain and a fur cap and a harried-looking city dweller, probably here escaping his shrewish wife from the look on his face . . .

When a GM sets out to create a city, he usually details a few key locations that the adventurers are likely to stumble across (a tavern, perhaps a temple or two, maybe a supply company and the like), plus perhaps a handful of important NPCs (Captain of the Guard, a generic soldier or two, etc.). If the characters steer away from the GM's beaten path, he is forced to improvise, a talent that not all GMs possess.

Kingspoint, a computerized GM aid from Goldtree Enterprises, is designed to simplify the GM's task of running a city adventure. The software details a completely fleshed-out city that models the ebb and flow of a large fantasy city (population 150,000), including over 260 detailed buildings and over 500 NPCs. Kingspoint also tracks time of day, weather, seasons, and can be customized for any roleplaying system. Kingspoint runs on any PC-compatible system running DOS 3.1 or greater, with either CGA (not so pretty), EGA or VGA. It requires a hard disk for installation, and requires a mouse to use the map. The software comes on two 3.5" disks, and ran smoothly and very usably on both my black & white VGA 286/12 laptop and my SVGA 486/66 desktop. I looked at both the current release version (1.3) and a sneak preview of version 2.0, which will be out within a month and is retitled The Goldtree Engine: Kingspoint.

The two biggest changes in 2.0 over 1.3 (other than the name change) are in system speed and mouse support. Version 1.3 required function-key access to all areas -- 2.0 supports a mouse at almost all levels, a great improvement. In addition, database access is significantly faster.

When you run the program, you're dropped into the city at the location last visited. The main screen has several windows. The current location is detailed, with address and name, along with the time of day, date, current city district and map coordinates, plus prevailing weather. A large window provides an ever-changing list of "Visible Life" at the current location. There is a window containing the names of the PCs at the current location (the program has a default character, named Kern), and indicators showing the function keys assigned to different modules.

From the main screen, there are a number of menus available. The first is for the RPG section. This is simply a scrolling list of headings with such titles as "Combat Charts," "Spell List 1," "Character Creation," and so forth. After choosing a heading, you're taken to an editable text file. Some of the sections, such as Armor List, Weapons List and Inn Food and Service, have text already present that you just have to customize for your particular RPG. Other sections, such as Character Creation, are blank. This entire set of files is completely optional, and exists just to allow you to free yourself from a stack of RPG supplements (at the cost of some hours of data entry). This is a very nice feature, one of the most useful functions in an extremely useful product.

Next up is the utility menu, where you can exit the game (this took me a while to find the first time I ran the software), change the system date and time, tweak your system setup, define a set of eight macros, edit the system templates, and rebuild the system files. Two of these options need special mention. While I didn't encounter any bugs or strange behavior during testing, judging from the number of times the manual mentions rebuilding the system files, it's good to know where to find the option. Apparently, the system may from time to time start acting strangely, and the rebuild is supposed to cure it. There's even an option to force a rebuild every time the program is run. Given that the rebuild takes slightly over two minutes of power-draining constant hard-disk access, I try to avoid it on the 286 laptop, but don't mind it as much on the 486, where it only requires about 15-20 seconds. Again, I didn't encounter any bugs, but the emphasis on file rebuilding in the manual left me curious.

The second option allows you to edit the various "templates" used throughout the program to track player information. Each template is essentially a blank "character sheet" of information that can be called up for each citizen of Kingspoint -- including PCs. These templates are simple text files, and can contain any information that the GM desires. This is the place to make note of important information about a PC that even the players don't know -- the curse on a favorite magic item, the dark family secret, that sort of thing.

The Visible Life window is by far my favorite part of the program. I've found myself spending time just staring at the screen, watching an unlimited array of NPCs wander in and out of the building. One minute the bar may be occupied by a diseased slattern, an animal trainer and two street urchins, then the children might run away as a city guard comes inside. The characters appearing aren't restricted to the 500-odd pregenerated NPCs; most of them are what I'd call random characters -- simple archetypes created on the fly by the software. If you decide to select one, you can edit their information and save them, giving the NPC a proper name and adding it to the list of those wandering the city.

The Info menu contains Kingspoint-specific information such us City History, District History and District Events. This menu also allows the GM to access the program inventory of hundreds of magical items, ranging from the powerful (Trident of the Sea Gods) to the silly (Staff of the Hemroid). Finally, it allows the GM to edit various RPG-specific charts and to summon the system help.

The Move menu takes you to any building in the city, either by name, address, business type or street name (or, if you desire, a long list of every building available). The Move interface is a little clunky -- it took me awhile to get over the fear that I was accidentally moving when I didn't want to. A simple set of direction arrows for movement would help in city navigation.

The Character menu is similar to the Move menu -- it allows you to call up a specific character or list of characters meeting a set of criteria based on any of name, number, alias, class, or type, and allows the GM to insert new characters into the program (including locations that the character frequents within Kingspoint).

The built-in die roller is simple, but performs its task well. The GM can choose dice type and number of dice, but no provisions are made for odd rolls such as 2d4+4 or the like. This would be a simple feature to enhance -- I'm surprised it hasn't been done already.

The GM's Journal is a collection of database front ends allowing the GM to enter specific information about events happening during the course of play, linking them to specific addresses, or specific buildings or characters, including comments about NPC reactions, secret information, and other vital data.

The final two menus, Location and Map, allow you to look at the locations in Kingspoint via two separate interfaces. The Location menu is text-based, and provides you with database listings of all nearby buildings, alleys and courtyards. The Map is a true graphic map, allowing you to zoom in on individual map squares and view buildings. It's a shame that the software isn't Windows-based so that this map window could be up at all times -- it's arguably the most useful portion of the program for navigation.

Now that you know what the program does, the question is, what do you do with it?

I envision several different types of Kingspoint/Goldtree Engine users. The first is computer-savvy GMs who lack either the time or experience to create their own fantasy world. Kingspoint is a good drop-in city for any medium- to high-fantasy campaign. The level of detail provided is more than enough for most adventuring needs, making Kingspoint a campaign module on a disk -- and a fine one at that.

The second type of user who will benefit from the Goldtree Engine is the power-user GM who can't wait to get every bit of campaign and RPG information typed into the various databases so that the actual printed material need never be opened again. The city of Kingspoint becomes secondary to the actual RPG aids included. Kingspoint scores well here, too, with easy-to-use interfaces and lots of flexibility.

I fall into the third category of GMs -- while I'd never drop the city of Kingspoint into my campaign in toto, I wouldn't hesitate to use the Kingspoint buildings as on-the-fly locations throughout my fantasy world of Cadwyn. If the characters stop at a roadside tavern, I might as well make it the Raven's Nest. I can use the GM utilities to note anything special the PCs do while inside, and I can ignore visible life that doesn't fit in with the current location. While this means much of the background information is wasted, the program is still a time-saver for my campaign.

Overall, the Kingspoint software is a complete fantasy RPG city ready for your characters, bug-free and fun to use. Even if you aren't looking for a fantasy city for your campaign, you'll likely find the Goldtree Engine a useful campaign tool, especially if you own a laptop computer. (Note: Goldtree will make available upgrades from version 1.3 to 2.0 for a nominal fee. For more information, contact Goldtree Enterprises at 3401 Ridgelake, Suite 103, Metairie, LA 70002, or phone (504) 833-7678, fax (504) 833-7681.)

-- Loyd Blankenship

Article publication date: October 1, 1994

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