Page to Pixel: Curse of the Azure Bonds
In the late 1980s, TSR had struck gold with its Forgotten Realms campaign setting for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Between game supplements, novels (in particular the Icewind Dale trilogy by R.A. Salvatore), and SSI’s new Gold Box games, never before had a roleplaying game company given a setting such wide exposure. They would attempt this approach for several other settings, finding small success with the horror-themed Ravenloft setting and larger success with the DragonLance series, which was perhaps more popular as a book than as a campaign.
Azure Bonds was published in 1988, the product of a collaboration between TSR designer Jeff Grubb (who later created the Spelljammer campaign setting) and his wife Kate Novak. The storyline concerns a young woman named Alias who wakes up, completely out of it with a magic blue tattoo on her arm. She finds that it is impossible to remove, and its curse controls her actions.
In a twist that no game would ever dare use (and certainly not Final Fantasy VII or Deus Ex) and is not at all a reference to the “Deckard is a replicant” theory in Blade Runner, it turns out that Alias is a magically created and controlled construct with artificial memories. She gains the ability to make decisions for herself. All is well in the Realms.
One of the interesting things about Azure Bonds is that it’s the first D&D novel to be adapted into game form (because we don’t count Heroes of the Lance for the NES. It just doesn’t exist. ). Strategic Simulations, Inc (SSI) had released the hit Pool of Radiance the previous year, the first in their legendary series of Gold Box games, which took the D&D rules and adapted them for play on the computers of the time. Pool of Radiance had been a popular and critical success, so SSI followed it up with a game based on Azure Bonds.
Curse of the Azure Bonds found the player characters waking up in the town of Tilverton, relieved of any weapons and armor they might have remaining from Pool of Radiance and with those less-than-charming blue tatoos on their arms. The party naturally want to be rid of the tats, and so set off finding a way to do just that. And thankfully, no, the entire party you imported over from Pool of Radiance is NOT composed of magical replicants.
The game plays very much like its predecessor, improving on it in places – most notably expanding the character classes to add Paladin and Ranger classes, as well as adding a sort of “fast travel” option to move to nearby locations on the world map (taking place mostly in the Dalelands). At the end of the game, HEY! It’s Tyranthraxus, that oh-so-lovable evil entity that took over a Bronze Dragon’s body in Pool of Radiance, back, hanging out in Myth Drannor while possessing a Storm Giant! That’s cool and all but…it’s kind of a step down from a dragon, don’t you think?
I honestly don’t remember Curse of the Azure Bonds as well as Pool of Radiance (I’m pretty sure I bought Interplay’s complete collection some time in the late 90s), hence my reason for referring back to it so much. But the Gold Box games were all fantastic RPGs. I’d recommend any of them. Not that they’re exactly easy to come by these days, although they’re not exactly rare either (after all, they’ve seen numerous rereleases). Perhaps we’ll see them again soon on GoG.com? We can only hope.