Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tunnels & Trolls: A Full Map

Slowly working my way across the map.

After about 12 hours of play, I've finally caught up (roughly) to where I was when I was playing Tunnels & Trolls last spring. I thought I'd use this post to walk through the process of explore one of the maps, annotating each of the encounters and the various gameplay considerations they evoke.

My party consists of two Dwarf fighters (Stahr and Stamper), a Hobb rogue (Josefa), and an Elf wizard (Abra). They're all Level 8 or 9. I have the rogue and wizard armed with bows; they mostly snipe from the rear (although arrows run out fast), with occasional spell support. The fighters charge into battle and bear the brunt of the attacks.

Stahr's equipment at the end of this session. I haven't found a single magic weapon or piece of armor.

As we discussed in the opening posts, there are no "derived" attributes in the game; enemy attacks do direct damage to constitution, and spellcasting depletes directly from strength. Strength is restored over time; constitution is restored every time you rest or eat food. Either way, it's pretty easy to get fully restored at the end of each battle. Given the importance of these two attributes, you want to level them up in greater proportion than the others. I've adopted the following strategy on leveling up: with every even level-up, I invest in strength and constitution (there's an option to raise both); with every odd level-up, I invest in the character's lowest useful attribute (e.g., dexterity, luck, and speed for the fighters; those plus intelligence for the spellcasters).

My first character loses a point of constitution regularly for no reason. This has been happening since I picked up an "illstone" in an encounter with an orc chief. I understood why it happened while I was holding the stone, but I sold it ages ago and the game didn't seem to recognize that it was gone from my inventory. My condition is listed as "good" and no spell stops the process.

The game starts in the city of Gull, in the far southwest of the game world, in map F1. Since Crusaders of Khazan is fundamentally a "lawmowing" game, in which you want to methodically uncover every square (16 x 16) on every map (5 x 4), I systematically worked east, exploring F1, F2, F3, and F4 before returning to Gull, refueling torches and arrows, and starting with row E. When I finished map E4, I went immediately north to D4 and started heading back west. That's where I pick up the narrative below.

I guess I'll be coming back to this one later.

I haven't completed all encounters: I had to annotate some for return when my party is stronger. These include:

  • A pleiosaur who lurks in the depths of one of the ocean squares in E2.
  • A mountain spire in F2 where I get attacked by a succession of powerful enemies on the way to the top.
  • A troll lurking under a bridge in E4. I have to fight him one-on-one with a single character, but he always kills me in the first round.
  • In the middle of a E4 swamp, a cave occupied by a hydra.

On the main quest to defeat the evil Empress Lerotra'hh and her monstrous forces, I have made only a little progress. In Blackwater Swamp, I found some dwarves holed up in a mountain fortress, begging for news about the war. (They automatically trusted me since I had some dwarves in the party.) They asked me to take word to their leader, a human warrior named Barengar, nearby in Grip Iron Pass.

I found the pass and helped Barengar and his forces against a slew of orcs. They rewarded me with a magic helm and asked me to take word of "Valdemarton's fall" to "the escarpment pass at Overkill," somewhere to the west. I assume I'll find it somewhere in these subsequent journeys. This dialogue is a good example of the clumsy way that the game introduces names and places, though. I assume a lot of it was adapted from gamebooks. Neither Valedmarton nor Overkill are mentioned in the backstory for the game.

A rare window on the main quest.

As we begin, I've arrived in Map D4, titled the "Red Orc Range," from the south. To keep things interesting, I adopt different lawnmowing patterns when exploring the maps. Sometimes, I uncover the map in north-south strips, sometimes east-west, and sometimes I make a ring around the edge and work inward. That's what I do here.

The game lets you choose a movement type as you go across the map. "Walk" is the default. "Run" lets you move faster, but at the cost of strength points. "Slow" helps you avoid traps but takes more time. These latter two are, I think, somewhat useless in wilderness areas. "Horse" lets you move through wilderness faster, saving on food. "Climb Up" is necessary if you want to move across mounts; this is a slow process that takes 12 hours per step. The best strategy when outdoors is to keep it on "Horses" most of the time, but almost everything causes it to revert to "Walk," so generally I just forget about it.

Setting movement options.

The first thing I encounter, in the bottom row of squares, is the walled village of Valdemarton, charred and burned from the orc attacks. I choose to enter. A beady-eyed man answers my knocks on the gate and demands 1 gold pieces per person and horse to enter. I say "no," but that leaves me with no options for entering the city, so I re-enter the square to activate the encounter again and say "yes."

For all the talk of its "fall," Valdemarton seems to be doing okay. The general store is open, which is good because I'm low on food. The Adventurer's Guild and Rogue's Guild are closed. In a ramshackle tavern, I'm forced to check my weapons at the door by a "shadow demon" bouncer. This turns out to be a bad thing. It soon becomes clear that by entering the tavern, I've entered some kind of "barroom brawling" competition, and everyone thinks my party is the "pros from Tallymark." I soon find myself in combat with 8 "human scums."

Restocking on food at the general store.

I win the combat without too much damage, but soon an overturned oil lamp starts a fire. I grab my gear and flee just ahead of the destruction.

Elsewhere in Valdemarton, the Baron's Inn offers a legendarily comfortable bed. My party consumes a round of ales and stew (this does nothing for me that I can tell) and pays 50 gold for the room. I get a night's sleep but nothing special happens.

The "unnaturally refreshing" sleep doesn't seem to have done anything for my attributes.

As I go to leave the inn, a guard wearing Baron Valdemar's colors stumbles into me and demands that I apologize. I refuse, and a brawl with 6 guards breaks out. They don't look tough, so I let the computer fight it, which turns out to be a mistake because Stahr is killed. I reload (my only other option is to wait for a special resurrection gem or replace him with an NPC) and this time, I don't even go into the inn.

Occasionally, you get these bits of furniture and other obstacles in combat, but they're very inconsistent.

The Wizard's Guild teaches spell levels 2-8. Abra, my wizard, has only up through Level 4 so far, so I spend some time studying the manual to see which ones I want. I ultimately pick up "Wall of Thorns" and "Second Sight." I make a note to return later with more money.
I wander into the throne room of the Baron of Valdemar. He has a lovely red-haired woman chained at his side, and he nonchalantly orders his guards to kill me. The ensuing battle involves 23 guards. They're tough but inaccurate, and I kill them all with only a little damage taken to Josefa. 

Decent experience for this one.

The Baron then draws his sword and attacks. He kills all of my characters and I have to reload. I try various strategies in subsequent combats, but nothing I do works and my characters can't even hit him. I mark Valdemar for a later return and head back out to the wilderness to resume my lawnmowing.

In the northwest corner of the map, I'm surroudned by a group of "Red Circle outriders." (Again, nothing about this in the backstory.) They demand a password. I don't have it. They give me a chance to surrender, but I decline. The subsequent battle is easy: all 7 warriors go down without doing any damage to me.

I wonder where I was supposed to get this password.

Elsewhere in the range, I find a "tomb carved from dark granite" with a carving of a clenched fist over the entrance. I choose to enter. This isn't a real dungeon but rather a text-only dungeon. It tells me that I come to a room with two silver-gray gauntlets suspended between a pedestal and a large floating stone block. It allows me to put one hand within a gauntlet, place both within the gauntlets, or leave.
Note how this encounter is taking place as text in the window instead of on the game map.

I suspect that when I put my hands in the gauntlets, the large block will come crashing down on them, so I use my most dextrous character, Josefa. Sure enough, that happens. She pulls her hands away in time. While I don't get to keep the gauntlets, Josefa's dexterity increases by 6 (not her maximum, just her current).

On the top of a mountain, I find a tomb with a sword above the entrance. Inside, a find a crystalline sword spinning in the air. I choose to have Stahr take it. An image of a warrior appears and swings his own crystalline sword at me. I parry the blow and the warrior's blade shatters. Stahr's current strength goes up by 6.

I pass the ruins of Castle Frostgate. There appears to be nothing to do here.

Soon, I come to a tomb with a carving of a helm above the door. I enter and find a helm inside. If the gauntlets required, and led to, dexterity, and the sword required, and led to, strength, I figure the helm has something to do with intelligence. I have my smartest character, Abra, put it on. Sure enough, her intelligence increases by 6. I wonder how long these bonuses will last.

Abra with her temporary intelligence bonus.

Following a wisp of smoke in the sky, I come upon a farmhouse. I hear a scream from a nearby barn. Running into the barn, I find a woman and man threatened by hundreds of "Dhesiri" boiling out of the ground. (I have no idea what these are. By icon, they look kind of like lizard-men. They are unmentioned in the manual. A Google search turns up only spoiler pages for this game.) I engage them to give the couple time to flee.

The ensuing battle with 29 "Dhesiri drones" is easy. I win without taking any damage. But the experience point rewards are high enough that Abra gains a level; since it's an odd level-up, I put an extra point in speed.

Speed offers increases much more slowly than the other attributes.

The farmer and his wife escape the barn and torch it behind them, killing the remaining Dhesiri. The farmer has me to dinner and explains that his farm is on the ancient site of a battle between Silvermain the Elflord and Muramaxx the Arch-Demon. He gives me an artifact, the Horn of Lakri Muss, for helping him.

The rest of the map is uneventful, save for a couple more Red Circle attacks and some encounters with Dhesiri who are immediately frightened off. There are a handful of squares I can't visit because they're on the side of verticle bluffs. This occurs other places in the game and I hate it.

The final map with some maddeningly-unmowable squares.

The next map to the west, "Khazan Pass," ruins my lawnmowing system. Random encounters with "Death's Host Patrols" keep leaving me slaughtered. Clearly, I need to do grinding elsewhere before I can continue.

Two conclusions from this experience:

1. The storytelling in Tunnels & Trolls is extremely clumsy. Characters and places are introduced haphazardly, and there's no way to tell what's going to be important and what is just a throw-away vestige to the gamebooks. The game effectively requires you to have played the solo adventures to understand the lore behind the areas you're exploring.

This combat would be much more meaningful if the game had bothered to tell me what "Dhesiri" are. Also, my colorblindness means I can barely see the characters and enemies against the backdrop.

2. The combat system is oddly binary. Battles are either moronically simple (e.g., the baron's guards) or functionally impossible (e.g., the baron himself). 

When I finish the "D" row, I'll have finished half the game. I expect the other maps to offer the same mixture of weird allusions and random encounters, so I probably won't blog about this game again until I have more to say about the main plot.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Game 180: DND (1984)

The opening screen from the 1988 version. The original version lacks a title screen.

Bill Knight (developer); published as shareware
Released 1984 for DOS; version 1.2 released 1986; version 2.0 released 1988 and re-titled Dungeons of the Necromancer's Domain
Date Started: 14 March 2015
Date Ended: 15 March 2015
Total Hours:8
Reload Count: 9 characters; 15 reloads on "winning" character.
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: (to come later) 
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)

Here's another mid-1980s offering that deserves an official number and GIMLET, something I didn't give when I offered a few paragraphs on it as part of my "backtracking" series in 2010. I recently did the same with Caverns of Zoarre, where I covered the history of the DND line.

Briefly, DND goes back to The Dungeon ("pedit5") and The Game of Dungeons ("dnd"), two of the earliest known RPGs, created by students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1975. It was adapted (or plagiarized, as some have it) to a variety of other systems by Purdue University student Daniel Lawrence in the late 1970s, and many of the people exposed to it decided to try a hand at their own versions, including C. Gordon Walton's Dungeons of Death (1979), Daniel Lawrence's Telengard (1982), Bill Knight's DND (1984), Thomas Hanlin's Caverns of Zoarre (1984), and another DND from 1985 sometimes called "Heathkit DND." What we're notably missing is Lawrence's pre-Telengard versions; most were discarded as potential copyright violations when Telengard was published by Avalon Hill.

Inspired (of course) by Dungeons & Dragons, the games all feature limited mechanics, rapid random encounters with both enemies and special objects, and death that is quick, frequent, and usually permanent.

All of them feature thrones that you can sit in or pry jewels from, but I'm not sure where this started.
This version was developed by Bill Knight of R O Software in Plano, Texas, in 1984. In 1988, he re-released it as Dungeons of the Necromancer's Domain, perhaps after some trouble with Daniel Lawrence. In Dungeons & Desktops (relevant chapter offered online here), Matt Barton says of the dispute:

The game was successful enough to attract Lawrence's attention; he saw it as unfair competition and did what he could to prevent its distribution. For his part, Bill claimed that he had done enough work cleaning up the "spaghetti code" of the original game that he had in fact created a new product. In any case, Bill updated the game and rereleased it as Dungeon of the Necromancer's Domain in 1988, which he claimed was a "ground-up rewrite" in an effort to avoid future conflict with Lawrence.

While I have no reason to doubt Barton, I haven't been able to find any primary sources to corroborate this history. (I tried to reach Mr. Knight through his company, but he hasn't responded yet.) Slightly contrasting Barton's account is an account from this site (which is otherwise absolutely riddled with errors) in which the author claims to have corresponded with Bill Knight and that Knight didn't even know the name of DND's author until the time of the correspondence (which seems to have been in the mid-1990s).

Whatever the case, no one's hands are perfectly clean here. I don't have Lawerence's DND to compare against Knight's, but it's clearly similar enough that it was a bit unethical for Knight to sell it for $25, no matter how much code-cleaning he'd done. On the other hand, it was disingenuous of Lawrence to try to stifle other versions, given that he himself had copied DND from Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood's PLATO original. In a 2007 interview with Barton, Lawrence claims he wasn't aware of the PLATO game and feebly offers that "some of my play testers may have well been giving me suggestions from their experiences elsewhere." Given the similarities between the The Game of Dungeons and DND derivatives like Telengard and Bill Knight's game--let alone Lawrence's original--I believe that Lawrence was lying or at least significantly mis-remembering. I don't think the original PLATO dnd was available on Cyber1 yet, so he may very well have been counting on the fact that no one could really compare the two games. In any event, Lawrence died in 2010, so we can't get his clarification on any of this.

Ironically, Bill Knight's DND might be the most faithful recreation we have of what Daniel Lawrence's DND looked like on the Purdue mainframes, and it clearly shows many elements--a main quest involving an orb; "excelsior" transport between levels; use of WAXD for movement; magic books that increase and decrease attributes--that go all the way back to dnd on PLATO.

Combat in version 1.2 (1986).
Combat in version 2.0, redubbed Dungeons of the Necromancer's Domain. The entire line offers minimal combat options, supplemented with spells (for some classes).

Both of Knight's versions play roughly the same, meaning I'm going to decline offering two separate posts about them. DND is more graphically primitive, using all ASCII characters, and even the 1986 version has all but two of its dungeons listed as "under construction." Necromancer updates the names of the dungeons (curiously, one of the original DND dungeons was called "Telengard") and doesn't indicate that any are incomplete. Necromancer also has more thorough in-game documentation where DND relies primarily on external files.

Character creation in the 1988 version. I admire how Knight pulled the dungeon names from the fathomless depths of his own creativity.

I like the original game's dungeons a bit better; they have more defined rooms and corridors; the Necromancer version's dungeons are more maze-like. Finally, the original DND offers more experience for battles than Necromancer. In the latter game, you hardly ever level up from killing foes, and the focus is on gaining experience points through accumulation of treasure. The first edition is better balanced this way.

In both versions, you can play a fighter, cleric, or magician. There's a selection of 24 spells for the latter two classes (in DND, clerics only get 16 spells), and fighters can find magic wands that give them spell-like capabilities. Unlike most DND derivations, this one has a reasonably complex inventory system, with the ability to spend accumulated gold pieces on weapon and armor pluses; magic items like Rings of Regeneration and Elven Boots; maps of the dungeon levels; and "transportation" among the different dungeons.
A cleric selects from a variety of spells.
Exploration is classic DND: as you move around--or even stand in the same spot--you encounter monsters, piles of treasure, and magic items. Fixed encounters include thrones, fountains, chests with buttons to push, altars, arcane books, and magic mirrors, and generally--like in most DND derivatives--the outcomes of fiddling with these things is completely random. You might gain treasure, find yourself in a difficult combat, take damage, get healed, lose attributes, get older, gain experience or an experience level, and so forth. Each level has an up and down staircase and an "excelsior" transport between levels. Pits, teleporters, and elevators move you up and down involuntarily.

Some of the game's many random encounters.

Monsters are drawn from the Dungeons & Dragons mold, and include trolls, vampires, giants, dragons, dopplegangers, dwarves, and harpies. Like the character, monsters all have a level. Moving downward in the dungeon adjusts the maximum or average level of the monsters you face but not the minimum; you might still meet a Level 1 ogre on Level 12 of the dungeon.

Hit points don't regenerate when you move, but it's not long in the game before you find a Ring of Regeneration to take care of this. Other magic items include shields, armor, weapons, and boots, all with a plus level between 1 and some distant maximum. As with the typical DND game, death removes the character file from the disk and forces you to start over.

This message is quite common at early levels.

The Knight versions have some elements I haven't seen in other DND titles, although of course I can't be sure which ones he invented and which he adapted from one of Lawrence's versions. For instance:

  • When you return to the surface, gold both converts to experience and remains in a stored inventory so you can spend it on goods.
  • Rather than spell points, the game uses a spell "slot" system similar to Wizardry. Spell slots regenerate slowly while still in the dungeon.
  • There are "magic torches" (as well as various light spells) that reveal the encounters in the squares around the character, not unlike the flares in the Wizard's Castle variants.
  • The game allows you to purchase level maps of the various dungeons. When you purchase one, it actually creates a text file in the DND directory with the name of the dungeon and the map level. Unfortunately, the maps are extremely expensive and don't annotate special encounters or stairs, so they're of limited utility.

In the shop. I guess it'll be a while before I can purchase this map.

The output of a cheaper map purchase.

As with most DND games, staying alive is very hard for the first few character levels. After that, it evens out, and a cautious player can stay alive effectively indefinitely (while rarely advancing, however). I had the most luck with a cleric character, who I managed to get to Level 9 in about 4 hours of gameplay, making liberal use of the "Hold Monster" spell on dragons, balrogs, and other nasty monsters.

This dragon is "helpless" from my "Hold Monster" spell, meaning I get to attack him for a while without retaliation.

Needed experience points double between levels, plus the game awards you fewer experience points for slaying monsters below your level, so advancement is very slow after around Level 7, and it's basically dependent on hitting lower dungeon levels and returning to the surface with huge treasure hauls. I think the maximum level in the game is 999; the help file says that will require 190,272,000 experience (about 1,000 times more than I earned in 4 hours). If you ask about Level 1000, the game says "you should be so lucky!"

The introductory help file has some text that suggests a main quest in the game:

The legend that holds the most interest for fools--I mean adventurers--such as yourself is that of the orb, an enormous eye-shaped gem which, if gazed into, grants its finder immortality. They say it was created and hidden by a mad wizard long, long ago and still waits deep in the musty tunnels and dank caverns, guarded by enormous dragons and, er, well, never mind.

I assumed the orb exists in all 5 dungeons and on the bottom level of each of them, and I decided to cheat just to document the endgame. After my Level 9 cleric died, I created a new character, a magician, and started using backups of the game file to make sure he survived. When he reached Level 9, I used the transporter to go directly to dungeon Level 20 (the highest level) and started scouting for the orb. I was there far too early, and I had to restore the character file very frequently (I think someone playing with permadeath would have to grind up to Level 20 or higher to survive "for real").

This is a pretty awesome spell description.
Eventually, I found the ORB in some corner on the level. I picked it up and headed back to the transporter, only to find that the transporter didn't work. I sighed and started the long search for stairways to climb up 20 levels to the surface. Fortunately a random teleporter on Level 17 took me immediately out of the dungeon. However, the game gave me absolutely no indication that I'd escaped with the Orb and won. So that was kind of lame.

The closest I can get to a winning screen.
DND scores only 18 on the GIMLET, hurt by a lack of any story and NPCs. It does best (3s) in the variety of special encounters, "magic and combat" (mostly for its spells), and the economy. I'd call it slightly better than Caverns of Zoarre but not as good as the wacky Telengard.

I destroy a Level 4 vampire with a spell.

The DND games are fun diversions, but their fundamental problem is that they depend too much on randomness and too little on skill. It's not surprising that the line didn't survive the 1980s while roguelikes--which offer much more complexity and creativity--did. I'll offer a quick post on the Heathkit version in 1985, but otherwise I'm not sorry to be leaving this early branch of CRPGs behind.


In list news, if anyone wants to see me play John Carmack's Wraith: The Devil's Demise, someone is going to have to help me out with an Apple IIgs emulator. The only one I could find for Windows, KEGS32, is impenetrable in its instructions. I managed to get a ROM file working with it and to (I think) mount the disk, but none of the regular Apple commands seem to work right, and there are no helpful menus or auto-launching options the way some emulators offer. Moreover, the emulator doesn't have a "save states" option, so I'll need to ensure that the game, if I get it running, is properly saving to a blank disk. Until I figure it out or some help comes along, I'm listing it as "NP."


Further reading: Posts on the entire DND line: The Dungeon (aka "pedit5," 1975); The Game of Dungeons (aka "dnd," 1975); Dungeon of Death (1979); Telengard (1982); Caverns of Zoarre (1984); and the Heathkit DND (1985). For a discussion of Lawrence and plagiarism, see this account by one of The Game of Dungeons's original authors.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Wrapping Up the Early Ages (1975-1983)

With the final post on Moria completed, I have now played and blogged about every RPG released in the western world (at least, that we've been able to collectively identify) through 1983, including console games. I have won all of the winnable ones except Moria. Damn that game.

When I originally started playing and blogging in 2010, I absolutely blasted through this era without any true care or consideration. By Game #9, I was in 1985. It was only a later rescinding of my "DOS-only" rule that got me back to the early days of RPGs. In my actual playing chronology, Ultima III was my 8th game. If I'd not adopted the DOS-only rule in the first place, it would have been 47th. That's really the way it should have been. The game is such a stand-out that I should have taken longer to build to it.

As I wrapped up 1988 (the first time through), I offered a turn-of-the-year post, reflecting on the themes of 1988 and what I was looking forward to in 1990. I also started selecting a "Game of the Year." It's time to do that retroactively for the earlier years. I'm going to cover a huge swath of time with this post and then do annual posts as I complete 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987.

The lineage of some early RPGs. Ultima III is notably the first game with multiple parents in its lineage.

Rather than covering individual years, I'm going to use this post to talk about general themes throughout this era, but for those readers who haven't read the entirety of my blog over the last five years, it's important to remember some of the games that we've discussed. The major categories are:

1. The PLATO games, developed by students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign between 1975 and 1979. The first ones appeared within a year after the release of the tabletop Dungeons & Dragons and include The Dungeon (aka "pedit5," 1975), The Game of Dungeons (aka "dnd," 1975), Moria (1975), Orthanc (1975), Oubliette (1977), and Avatar (1979). As these games appeared before the first commercial RPGs, they relied only on each other and tabletop RPGs for their sources.

Oubliette (1978) offered a first-person perspective and multiplayer exploration, with better graphics and RPG mechanics than anything we'd see on the commercial market for several years.

2. The first independent commercial RPGs, generally developed by programmers with some tabletop RPG experience but without experience with the PLATO games. These pioneering authors were feeling their way into an era in which nothing was standardized. Many of these titles launched short-lived series, but they're all somewhat insular, showing little awareness of other titles being released around the same time. For this reason, they are also occasionally innovative, offering features that didn't make it into the later genre. They include:
  • The Maces & Magic series, including Balrog (1979), The Stone of Sisyphus (1980), and Morton's Fork (1981).

The Dragon's Eye is one of many Apple II games that had some interesting ideas but never went anywhere.

3. The Ultima line, which technically belongs with the games listed above, but are so important that they deserve their own category. Like the other independent commercial RPGs, they were written by someone with no experience playing other computer RPGs. Titles are Akalabeth: World of Doom (1979), Ultima (1981), Ultima II (1982), and Exodus: Ultima III (1983), as well as the first Ultima clone: The Ring of Darkness (1982).

3. The DND line, directly descended from the PLATO Game of Dungeons via Daniel Lawrence's adaptations. In this era, they include only Dungeon of Death (1979) and Telengard (1982) as well as Lawrence's lost versions. We'll see more in 1984 and 1985. They feature top-down gameplay, rapid random encounters, limited mechanics, and permadeath.

Telengard is difficult and random.

4. Roguelikes, starting of course with Rogue (1980) and continuing with Moria (1983). Rogue is starkly original, shows no dependence on earlier games, and offers a complexity in mechanics that is way ahead of its time.

5. The Wizardry line, adapted from the PLATO Oubliette, and consisting of Wizardry (1981), Scenario #2 (1982), Scenario #3 (1983), plus one clone: Maze Master (1983).

There are many "first" games in this era, but Exodus: Ultima III serves well as a "last" game (even if it wasn't technically released last), as it's the first game with an identifiable linage that references more than one prior game. While obviously a child of Ultima II, it was also heavily influenced by Wizardry in its multi-character approach (Richard Garriott has said as much) and any one of several games in its use of a separate tactical combat screen.

Themes of the Early Era

Among the first eight years of RPGs, we can identify several common themes:

1. Single-player was the second choice. To those of us who grew up with single-player commercial RPGs and saw the advent of MMORPGs as an unwelcome offshoot, it may be surprising to learn that the first RPGs were, fundamentally, multi-player. In the context of the time, it makes sense: Tabletop RPGs were a group experience, and the PLATO system was meant to facilitate communication and collaboration. Even the top-down, single-character games had a chat function and allowed various PCs to interact with each other, and the first-person games (Moria, Oubliette, and Avatar) were explicitly meant to be played with a party--to the extent that I found them mostly unsurvivable as a single character. It's amazing to me how fast this functionality appeared.

Jockeying for position in the "Hall of Fame" was a key motivating factor in the PLATO series.

In an era of limited network connectivity, multiplayer games couldn't hope to survive outside the educational environment, and the first commercial RPGs were naturally single-player. But even in this transition, many games were curiously reluctant to give up the idea that RPG playing should be a shared experience. A remarkable number of titles from this era have "leaderboards" that track high scores, even though it was unlikely that people would share copies. Wizardry had password locks on characters, expecting that a single disk might store several players' characters. Space allowed multiple players to engage their characters in duels. Eamon assumed that eager players would trade scenarios. A few titles (e.g., Crown of Arthain, Fracas, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) offered the ability for more than one player to control different characters, and a lot of the era's manuals offered examples and scenarios that assumed friends would be playing side-by-side.

Many games took it for granted that you'd have friends to play along with.

Only as this era drags on do developers seem to realize that CRPG playing is going to be a lonesome, solitary experience. In my opinion, games start to improve in quality as developers include more NPCs, quests, and story rewards to make up for the lack of real-life friends giving high-fives over top scores.

2. Hardware limitations forced considerable compromises. The PLATO games were built on a powerful system whose capacity probably exceeded the time and effort the students were willing to spend programming. As a result, the very first RPGs are anything but primitive. We didn't see commercial games with the complexity and size of Oubliette and Moria for almost a decade.

But on the microcomputer, the story was different. Recollections of developers are rife with stories about cutting material and functionality to fit in the memory and storage media of the era. Offering a splash screen at the beginning of the game might mean the sacrifice of three dungeon levels. A few bloops of sound meant having to cut out combat mechanics.

The result is that there isn't a single game from 1975 to 1982 that has both decent graphics and decent gameplay. The games with the most primitive graphics and sound are those with the best mechanics, as we see in Wizardry, Rogue, Moria, and SwordThrust.

In Eamon (1980) and Swordthrust (1981), a complex set of factors determined accuracy and damage in combat.

Developers are never really freed from these shackles completely, but we start seeing a lot more advanced games as storage media and memory specs improve. By the mid-1980s, we've clearly hit the "good enough" point. We're not there yet, but we almost are with Ultima III.

3. Cross-platform games are still rare. Temple of Apshai was the leader in this regard, with ports to the Apple II, Commodore PET, Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, TRS-80, and DOS within the first few years of the decade. Most other games were only released for one or two platforms; the exceptions, like Wizardry and Ultima were only because they became wildly popular later.

In comparing games to each other, we always have to keep in mind that some platforms were woefully starved. If you had a TRS-80, you could play the Dunjonquest series, The Wizard's Castle,  the all-text Dungeons and Dragons, and that's about it. PET owners were even more limited and probably cherished Dungeon of Death and DUNGEON for that reason. Even a DOS user was mostly out of luck prior to 1984; most of the games eventually released for it were released years after their originals.

The Ring of Darkness (1982) was probably the best game of the era for the ZX Spectrum or Dragon 32.

4. The era is characterized by innovative dead-ends (at least temporarily). The large number of independent developers, working without any kind of template, came up with remarkably innovative mechanics, many of which didn't make it. Consider Stuart Smith's games, in which every enemy is a named NPC and can actually collect treasure and level up; or Robert Clardy's games, with soldiers in place of hit points. The otherwise-mediocre Crown of Arthain (1981) is notable for using hexes instead of squares. The Dragon's Eye (1981) had action-based side-view combat. Dungeons and Dragons (1980), which I ranked low, is notable for reflecting character speed in the speed of its text-based combat. How long will it be before we see another game with an audible heartbeat, like Dungeons of Daggorath (1982), or a lockpicking minigame, like Tunnels of Doom (1982)? Almost every game of the era, good or bad, at least does something different.

I didn't really like Empire II (1982), but there wasn't any other game of the early 1980s in which I was gambling, doing drugs, and hiring prostitutes.

5. Content takes a back seat to mechanics. Looking over the list of 1975-1983 games, you're hard-pressed to find one with a good story or memorable NPCs. At best, the manual has a framing story, usually goofy, that offers the most banal explanation for why your character is on-screen. The only outliers are Ultima, Eamon, and Temple of Apshai, all of which excel to some degree in story-telling rather than just battle. Starting over the next couple of years, a regular in-game narrative becomes the norm.

It's particularly interesting to reflect on how the text adventure was developing during this period, with games like the Zork series, the Savage Island series, and the Scott Adams Graphic Adventure series offering loads of content and puzzle-solving without any combat mechanics. The two types of games spring from a common source, and it's good to see the approaches re-unified (unified for the first time in computer RPGs, of course) later in the 1980s.

What do you think? Any other major themes that I'm missing?

Games of the Year

When I finished 1988, I retroactively chose "Games of the Year" for 1981-1983, but of course those were based only on the DOS versions. Let's take a look at these choices and see how well they hold up. Since there were less than three games per year prior to 1979, I'm going to start with that year. Keep in mind that in "Game of the Year," I look not only for quality and enjoyability but also for its enduring influence on the genre.

1979. I'm tempted to give it to Akalabeth, but as innovative as Richard Garriott was, I don't think his lasting influence is solidified until Ultima in 1981. Dunjonquest: The Temple of Apshai is the better choice. The developers tried hard to model a classic tabletop RPG experience with the limitations of the times, including a full set of character attributes, a complex inventory system, and detailed descriptions of rooms and treasures in an accompanying game manual. More than any game until perhaps the Gold Box series started in 1988, you really feel like you're playing Dungeons & Dragons on your computer.

1980. Eamon and Fracas are both worthy candidates, offering very different experiences. Eamon is the first RPG/text-adventure hybrid, and it still offers good combat mechanics, inventory, and spellcasting. Fracas is a wonderfully fun game from Stuart Smith with plenty of features we no longer see. But in the end, if I'm talking about excellent mechanics and enduring influence, I can't not give the award to Rogue.

When a game lends its name to an entire sub-genre, it gets "Game of the Year."

1981. Nothing I've played since my "new plan" took effect has come close to challenging Wizardry and Ultima for the title. It's a difficult decision between the two, but I think Wizardry is the clear winner, for enjoyability (it's one of only three or four games from this entire era that I've happily played multiple times), innovation (it's the first multi-character game), and endurance: we owe Might & Magic, The Bard's Tale, and Dungeon Master to it, and it even had an influence on Ultima III.

1982. I gave it to Telengard when my only choices were Telengard, Ultima II, and Wizardry II. My reasoning was that Telengard was the best representative of its particular line (the DND games, which we'll be talking more about soon). Now I have 14 games to choose from, and it's a bit tougher. Since I first panned it in a scathing post back when I was just getting started, I've come to feel better about Ultima II. For all its idiocies, it has some decent game mechanics, and it's one of the only games of the era to even recognize the concept of NPCs.

Sword of Fargoal is a fun action RPG from the same year. Tunnels of Doom offered the first tactical combat screen that I know about, as well as the fun lockpicking minigame. The two Warrior of Ras titles had very innovative approaches to combat and exploration.

I'm going to reluctantly switch my choice to Dungeons of Daggorath, which stands out as the most innovative game of the year, if not the most influential. It has features we won't see again for several years: real-time action in a first-person environment (but with text inputs!), a critical importance of sound, and a consideration of fatigue as well as health. I say "reluctantly" because I don't think these features influenced later RPGs so much as anticipated them; I'm not sure that the developers of Dungeon Master, for instance, even heard of Daggorath, let alone played it. But it's hard to see lasting influence from any of the 1982 titles, and Daggorath, if nothing else, is the game I'll remember the longest. Telengard might be the best representative of its line, but its line isn't very good.

The screenshot doesn't do it justice. Daggorath is the most sensory game of the entire era.

1983. I gave it to Ultima III, and there it remains. There are some decent games in 1983, including some starkly original ones--Expedition Amazon, Galactic Adventures, Moria, and The Return of Heracles all have their charm--but Ultima III truly feels like it's pushing us into the next era, with a well-structured plot, a complex spell system, character choices that really matter, NPCs that offer lore and clues, and the best tactical combat screen to date. It's a clear standout in my GIMLET scale: I gave it a 51, 14 points higher than the highest game before it (Wizardry), and it remains the champion until Ultima IV, Might & Magic, and Starflight come along in 1985.

Ultima III isn't just game of the year; it's game of the era.

Looking Ahead

While this post was in its draft form, I already started 1984. I've yet to offer a "Game of the Year" for the year, since the only games I had to pick from, before my backtracking began, were Caverns of Zoarre, DND, and Zyll, none of which I completed.

In many ways, 1984 is an odd year. We might call it the "lost year" of RPGs. None of the major franchises--Ultima and Wizardry, primarily--had 1984 offerings. The "Golden Age" marked by Ultima IV, Phantasie, Might & Magic, The Bard's Tale, and Wizard's Crown wouldn't start until 1985. The year encapsulates the rise and fall of computer gamebooks, the last gasps of the inadequate DND lineage, and a series of one-offs that would have been more at home in 1982.

There are a few titles I'm looking forward to. Questron was my first RPG, and it's a crime that I haven't yet played it as part of the blog. (It was supposed to inaugurate my fifth anniversary, but I didn't get to it in time.) I want to go back and finish Zyll, an innovative text RPG, and give another chance to Rivers of Light now that I've played Stuart Smith's other offerings. I've heard good things about SunDog: Frozen Legacy. I'm anxious to try Hack to see how it bridges Rogue and NetHack.

I expected to have more time into Tunnels & Trolls by now, but I still haven't caught up to where I was almost a year ago, so rather than re-hash old territory, I'm going to continue into 1984 with DND. Happy reading!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Game 179: The Forest of Doom (1984)

The Forest of Doom
Penguin Books (developer and publisher), based on a book by Ian Livingstone
Released 1984 for Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum
Date Started: 12 March 2015
Date Ended: 12 March 2015
Total Hours: 4
Reload Count: 7
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: 19
Ranking at Time of Posting: 36/176 (20%)

The Forest of Doom is the second and, I think, last Fighting Fantasy gamebook adapted for the computer by Penguin Books. Even more than The Citadel of Chaos, it illustrates the missed opportunities associated with adapting a gamebook to a computer game.

The book is about the same size as The Citadel of Chaos in pages and entries.

The backstory casts you in the role of a wandering adventurer looking for fame and fortune. One night, a wounded dwarf named Bigleg collapses near your camp outside the Forest of Doom. Before he dies, he tells his story: he's a subject of King Gillibran of Stonebridge, who desperately needs to unite his people against some trolls. The dwarves being an ornery lot, they'll only follow Gillibran if he can assemble the four bronze "rune talismans" that belonged to the kings of old. Bigleg's party had managed to find the talismans, but they were ambushed by an "assassin thief" from another village; the thief, in turn, was killed by the goblins of the Forest and the talismans were scattered among the area's denizens. Before dying, Bigleg tells the adventurer to take his 30 gold pieces, visit a local mage named Yaztromo to get outfitted, find the talismans, and bring them to Stonebridge.

Below is a map of the titular Forest, taken from the Fighting Fantasy web site. The map doesn't exist in the gamebook, but the author, Ian Livingstone, clearly worked from a map because  all of the directions correspond perfectly. I've drawn a red line indicating the path that you must take to win the game:

The game and the book diverge in the successful path, I should add. In the book, your quest is to find the Hammer of Stonebridge, and you only have to find two parts. In the game, you have to find four runes, and they're in different places than the pieces of the hammer in the book. Thus, unlike The Citadel of Chaos, the text of The Forest of Doom differs slightly between the book and the game, although overall the encounters play basically the same.

Combat is unchanged since Citadel of Chaos.

As you explore the game, you can never backtrack and you can never go south. Thus, while it's possible to hit every encounter on the east/west roads by going all the way in one direction, then going north, then going all the way in the other direction, there are a bunch of places where you have to make a decision about which north/south road to take, causing you to miss a host of interesting encounters along them. Moreover, if you don't follow specific roads, you won't find the four talsimans, and you'll lose the game when you reach Stonebridge. (There are otherwise only a couple of immediate deaths in the game, and you have to do something really dumb to reach them.)

This is the kind of gamebook choice that we might call a "moron test." Sure, I'm going to attack the ultra-powerful wizard who's trying to help me!

You can understand why this has to happen in the book--kind of. If the book allowed you to backtrack, it would have to store multiple entries for each location depending on whether you'd previously visited. Or, it would occasionally have to say something awkward like, "Have you been to this location before? If so, turn to entry 59; if not, turn to entry 123." This, admittedly, wouldn't have been so bad. But the book came up with a different solution that I'll talk about in a second.

I know the four talismans are scattered randomly in the forest. Why do I "dismiss" the path to the south?

In a computer version, on the other hand, there's absolutely no reason not to let the player flexibly explore the entire map. It should have posed very little programming challenge, and it would have turned an on-screen book into a reasonably fun, if small, text adventure. The programmers showed some flexibility in other areas, so why not in this one crucial area?

But wait--it gets worse. At the end of the book, if the player reaches Stonebridge without the two parts of the hammer, the book gives him to the option to return to the beginning. He has to make a luck roll. If he fails, he gets slaughtered by hill people. If he passes, he goes back to Yaztromo's tower with all his equipment and gold, and he can purchase new items and set out again. If he found one part of the hammer the first time, he can make different choices the second time and find the other part.

Purchasing items at the beginning of the game.

The game offers the same thing, but with one crucial difference: if you make your luck roll, you escape the hill people, but you lose your backpack and all but 5 gold pieces in the process. This forces you to start completely over, in a position worse than a character starting the game from scratch. Why change the one thing that partly redeemed the linear nature of the book?

Explain how this is "lucky."

Like The Citadel of Chaos, the game has you start by rolling skill, stamina, and luck statistics. Where Citadel has you select from a list of spells, Forest has you purchase a variety of magic items from a shopping list given to you by the wizard Yaztromo. It consists of things like a Potion of Plant Control, a Ring of Light, garlic buds, and an Armband of Strength. Each item works once and most of them are necessary for solving various puzzles. After you make your selections, you make your first decision about whether to go west or east.

My character sheet in the midst of one of my attempts.

The first talisman is one move to the west, one to the north, and a decision to investigate a hut. The hut turns out to be occupied by a witch who tries to knock you out with some herbs. If you don't have a Headband of Concentration, you get knocked out and wake up outside with none of your food, having lost the opportunity to get the talisman. If you do have the Headband, you survive the knock-out drugs, but the witch's servant hurls a chair at you and you have to make a luck roll. If you fail, you get knocked out, lose your food, and miss your chance at the talisman. Only by having the headband and making the luck roll is it possible to win the game.

Finally, where the book gives you clues like "If you have the Headband of Concentration, go to Page 73," you get no such help from the game. Unlike The Citadel of Chaos, where the player had to choose to use the right spell at the right time, in Forest, the game automatically employs the appropriate item if the player has it. Thus, if you don't have the right item when you need it, you don't even know what the right item is.

The other talisman-based encounters are a bit easier, but in general, The Forest of Doom is a lot more punishing than The Citadel of Chaos, but even weirder, The Forest of Doom game is a lot more punishing than The Forest of Doom book. What makes me a little angry is that it doesn't have to be this way. The Forest of Doom could have been a fun game. The encounters are more interesting and less goofy than Citadel, with a couple of mini-dungeons to explore, some creative enemies, a few actual role-playing choices, and a lot more combats. It would have been nice if you didn't have to skip 3/4 of them on the one path that weaves through the four talisman encounters.

A "moral" role-playing option. Of course, if you go to help, you end up getting an item stolen from your backpack.

I do, however, feel compelled to undermine my argument with one possibility. I said that the game, if you make your luck roll, dumps you back at the beginning with only 5 gold pieces. I'm 95% sure that the game also returns the talismans, if you found any, to their original locations. However, there's a weird encounter with a group of bandits right before the endgame. It's weird because a) you can skip it by paying them 7 gold pieces, a paltry sum by that point in the game; and b) if you choose to fight, it's a relatively difficult fight with five consecutive enemies, but it results in almost no reward: two measly gold pieces. Part of me wonders if the bandits don't turn out to have any talismans you might have lost in the last game. I can't check because I can't get the game to work if I'm returned to the beginning. It gets stuck on a continuous "loading" screen.

If you manage to make it to Stonebridge with all of the talismans, the dwarves take you to their king, who shows the runes to his people and speaks about their forthcoming victory over the trolls. He gives the reader a gold winged helmet and a silver box with dozens of jewels and gems.

It is slightly refreshing to find a game in which my only goal is to become wealthy beyond my wildest dreams.

A full GIMLET is hardly necessary, as it's the same game engine as The Citadel of Chaos and you can read my scores there. I'd maybe given this one a single extra point for "encounters and foes" and reverse the "magic and combat" and "equipment" scores I gave to Citadel, since this game has no magic but does have a slightly more advanced equipment system.

If you're interested in more about the plot of the game, I've given three detailed summaries below. The first is what happens if you always choose the first option; the second is what happens if you always choose the last option; the third is a full walkthrough for the game. There are some other gamebook derivations in 1984, but I'll wait to experience them, as I'm a bit burned out by the sub-genre. Next up we'll have some more Tunnels & Trolls.


Always choosing the first option

Went left at a crossroads. Helped a guy free his leg from a bear trap, but he turned out to be a thief who stole all my gold [I could have chosen a random item instead]. Kept going, saw a goblin sitting on a log tossing a rune to himself. Attacked immediately. Goblin turned out to be a shapechanger with relatively high stats. Defeated him in combat and found that the rune was part of the illusion. Ate some mushrooms on the ground and found my skill and luck swapped [but they were the same to begin with, so no big deal]. Sat in a chair to rest; turned out to be a Chair of Life Draining, and lost 4 stamina points and a meal. Attacked by a wild boar. Killed it with no injury to myself. Took a gold ring from his nose, which automatically translated to 10 gold pieces. Gained a luck point from this, but was already at maximum.

Went north at a junction. Reached the bank of a river near a waterfall. Walked down to base of waterfall. Couldn't see through sheet of water; took a chance and walked through it. Found myself in a cavern, where I was attacked by a fish man. Killed him without taking injury. Found nothing of value and left.

Camped behind some rocks. Awakened by a growl at night; attacked by werewolf. Killed him with loss of 2 stamina. Slept rest of the night, collected my belongings, and left. Went north at a junction. Fell into a bear trap with a wooden stake. Had to test my luck. Was lucky; missed stake but still fell to bottom at loss of 2 stamina. Used boots of leaping to get out (this happened automatically; I didn't have to choose it like I did for the spells in Citadel of Chaos). Came upon a rock with a sword sicking out of it and tried to pull it free. Passed skill test; got enchanted sword.

Went west at a junction before Stonebridge. Reached a hut by a pond; investigated, found it uninhabited. A vase on the porch rattled and was filled with an "eerie blackness." Dropped it on the ground, which released an earth elemental that caused an earthquake and destroyed the house; I lost 2 stamina and 3 luck. Kept walking into forest. Encountered a "catwoman" and fought her, killing her with no loss of stamina. Collected gold studs from her ears, bringing my gold piece total up to 20.

Found dwarf sitting on the side of the road. Struck up a conversation. He turned out to be Trumble, a dwarf from a village competing with Stonebridge, searching for the runes himself. This caused me to lose 1 luck point. Chose to attack him. Killed him with no loss of stamina (my high initial score plus the enchanted sword were doing a good job here). Found a corked bottle in his backpack. Drank it; turned out to be a health potion and I got 3 stamina back.

Heard stomping through the forest. Bravely faced it, and found myself fighting a forest giant. Killed it with no loss of stamina. Found brass lantern on his body. Rubbed it and a genie apeared. I told him of my quest, and he told me to search the giant's boot. I found a bronze talisman and got 1 luck point back. My inventory was full and I had to leave something behind, so I left the garlic buds, assuming that if I met a vampire, the holy water I was still carrying would do the trick.

Further down the path, attacked by "death hawks." Killed them with no loss of stamina. Found a siler band on one of his legs that said "death waits you"; left it behind. Found lair of large creature and saw something glittering; investigated more closely. Attacked by wyvern. Failed luck test, was hit by blast of fire, lost 4 stamina points. Killed it in combat with loss of 2 stamina. Ate a meal to get some back. Found a gauntlet, a gold ring, and 10 gold pieces in his lair. Tried on gauntlet; turned out to be Gauntlet of Weapon Skill. But I didn't want to leave another item behind and my skill was already pretty good, so I left it.

The last encounter of the game is completely unnecessary.
Kept walking. Accosted by three men and a woman who demanded 7 gold or three objects. I gave them 7 gold. Continuing on, I reached Stonebridge, having failed the quest with only one talisman. Made choice to circle back around to Yaztromo. Attacked by hill men on the way back. Lost everything and ended up worse off than if I started a new game.


Always choosing the last option:

Went east at initial crossroads. Found a talking crow atop a signpost; he wanted a gold piece for his advice, but I ignored him and kept going east. Came to trees bearing strange fruit but declined to eat them. Later, heard voices in the trees but ignored them. Then heard growling in trees but ignored that, too. Went west at a crossroads and north at the next one. Attacked by pygmies with blowpipes. Passed 2 luck tests and neither hit me. Pygmies ran away and I declined to give chase.

Attacked by swarm of bees and decided to fight rather than jump into water. Killed them with loss of 2 stamina. Reached bank of a river and decided to cross it by swimming and holding my backpack above the water. Crossed safely. Camped, attacked by three wolves in the night. Killed them with no loss of stamina. Collected gold-studded collar from one of them.

Came upon a hut but kept walking. Also ignored a boulder rocking back and forth. Went east at a split. Ignored a friar who was heading my way. Ignored building covered with ivy. Ignored wyvern's lair (the first time I came upon something from the first track). Assailed by bandits; refused to give them anything and killed them with loss of 4 stamina. Bandits had nothing but 2 gold pieces on them.

Arrived at Stonebridge having failed with no runes.


Game walkthrough:

During character creation, prioritize luck, as you'll need to make an initial luck roll in witch's hut. Skill is important but not as important, since all enemies will have a much lower stamina total than you, and eventually you'll wear them down no matter how bad your skill. There are also plenty of ways to restore stamina and find items that improve your skill. If you roll a skill of 10 or higher, you'll breeze through the game.

At Yaztromo's, take the Headband of Concentration, fire capsules, Potion of Plant Control, Ring of Light, Rope of Climbing, and the Net of Entanglement. Leave yourself at least 3 gold pieces and 2 empty inventory spaces. Buy a healing potion if you want to hedge your bets.

The most crucial decision in the game.
Go west at the first intersection, then north. Look through the window of the hut. Enter and draw your sword immediately. The old woman will try to knock you out with some herbal chloroform, but your Headband of Concentration will save you. Her servant will toss a wooden chair at your head and you'll face your first luck test. If you fail and get knocked unconscious, start the game over because you can't win at this point.

Assuming you pass and the witch flees, search the hut. Pick up the book under the table and receive Talisman #1, a luck point restored, and the Eye of Amber (which you won't need).

At the intersection, put your hand in the hole if you don't mind losing a stamina point in exchange for a magic helmet that gives you an extra strength point in combat.

Go east at the junction. You'll get attacked by a treeman and lose 1 stamina, but your fire capsules will save you. East at the next junction, then east again. You'll automatically go north. You get attacked by tangleweed, but your Potion of Plant Control takes care of it.

At the river, start a conversation with the centaur and give up the 3 gold pieces to get across the river. Attacking him accomplishes nothing and trying to cross on your own means you lose 1 provision.

You camp and are attacked in the night by a giant spider. Nothing to do but fight it. With a skill of 7, the worst that happens is you're evenly matched (or +1 if you got the helmet).

The next morning, go east along the new path and enter the cave. You'll find a sleeping cave troll with a leather bag nearby. Try to creep up and take the bag. If you fail the luck test, the Net of Entanglement will take care of him. Otherwise, get out and find the Rune Talisman #2 and a small brass bell; it's a quest item for a friar, but you won't be meeting him if you want to win the game.

West at the next junction, then west again. Ignore the well unless you want to explore a little side dungeon where you can fight some gremlins and get some treasure (it doesn't hurt anything but doesn't help, either). If you do that, you'll eventually return out of the same well. Keep going west until you can go north.

You'll come to a mud pool. Don't toss a coin in or you lose 1 luck. If you've taken any wounds, rub some mud on them for 4 stamina points healing. Continue. You'll get attacked by a pterodactyl, with no choice but to fight him. His skill is 7, so at worst you're evenly matched.

Follow the arrow when you're finished with the bird, and you'll reach a cave entrance. Your Ring of Light will disappear here as you use it for illumination.  You'll find a medallion worth 5 gold pieces. Next, your Rope of Climbing fulfills its destiny to get you safely into the cave. Climb down.

At the first tunnel intersection, the safest option is to eat the (you may get some screwed up text here; it doesn't seem to hurt anything) green-topped fungus. It will restore 4 stamina points if you need it. Attacking the workers reveals that they're clones of some sort and gets you nothing. The red-topped fungus is poison.

Continue on to the first alcove. Look inside the barrel for a magic shield that will give you +1 to attacks. Open the wooden chest for 8 gold pieces, Rune Talisman #3, and a point of luck. If somehow  you've taken a lot of damage in combats and your stamina is low, this would be a good time to eat some food to restore it.

Keep climbing (the only option) and ignore the next alcove; it has an unnecessary battle with 4 clone warriors that gives you nothing. At the top of the stairs, you're attacked by a fire demon with a flaming sword. He has a skill of 10, making him pretty tough, but even if you started low, you should have an effective skill of 9 by now, and you have far more stamina.

Once you've killed the fire demon, don't put the crown on your head or sit on the throne. It leads to one of the only "bad" endings where you become the new king of the clone warriors. Instead, climb out the roof.

One of the few scripted "bad" endings to the game.
Head east the next time you can make a choice. You'll find a gold piece and get 1 luck point if you need it.The dwarf that you encounter next is an enemy, from a rival clan, also searching for the Rune Talismans, but he doesn't have any. Starting a conversation with him will cost you 1 luck point, although you learn his story. Attacking him (either immediately or after the conversation) will give you a health potion that restores 3 stamina; if your skill is low enough that you actually NEED it, you'll probably lose more than that fighting him in the first place. The safer option is just to shove him off the log and keep going.

I love how there's no option to just walk past him. You either have to kill him or shove him off the log, but you can't just keep on walking.
You'll reach a couple of junctions where you have no choices. When you hear the heavy footsteps coming, don't hide; face the enemy, who turns out to be a forest giant. Fight him (he has a skill of 9; at worst, if you got the loot above, you should be evenly matched). When he's dead, make sure you rub the lantern--it's the only way to win. A genie will come out and tell you to search the giant's boot, giving you a luck point and Rune Talisman #4.

Next, you'll have an unavoidable fight with 3 "death hawks" with laughably low skill, especially since it's the last necessary combat in the game.

You come next to a clearing next to a wyvern's lair. You can investigate the lair if you want--you'll have to pass a skill check to avoid his fire breath, then defeat him (Skill 10) in combat. When you kill him, take the gauntlets--they add anther point of strength in combat--but don't put on the ring; it's a Ring of Weakness. Anyway, you don't need the extra combat help, so you can just keep going.

In the last encounter of the game, you're confronted by four bandits who demand 7 gold pieces or three items from your backpack. Unless you want to fight them (four in a row, at Skill 8) for role-playing reasons, it's easier just to hand over the money, which you have plenty of. Either way, after the encounter you proceed to Stonebridge for the endgame text and reward.


Further reading: We've explored the connection between CRPGs and gamebooks in one, two, three postings about Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan. I just blogged about the earlier Fighting Fantasy gamebook adapted to the computer: The Citadel of Chaos.