Friday, March 27, 2015

Game 181: Escape from Hell (1990)


Escape from Hell isn't going to be the best game of my chronology, or even 1990, but I suspect it will be the only game on my list in which Josef Stalin joins my party and starts shooting the minions of Satan with a nailgun. If I can't have a high-quality CRPG, I'm at least grateful for one that shows me something I haven't seen before.

It's also the only game I can think of in which your PC is modeled on the game's author, Richard Seaborne. We previously saw his work on Prophecy I: The Fall of Trinadon (1988). His co-designer, Alan J. Murphy, later appears as an NPC. The setup is told in a few brief paragraphs in the opening screens: one day Richard goes over to Alan's house and finds a weird note stuck to the door with an unknown phrase on it. Alan is gone. Later, recounting the story to his girlfriend, Alison (named after Richard Seaborne's wife), Richard says the phrase and Alison disappears in a "poof!" Moments later, Richard gets a call from "the Divine Phone Company" who warns him his friends have been sent to hell because of the "powerful magic incantation."


"You must be joking," Richard protests. "I just said..." and repeats the incantation. In a split second, he finds himself in a small room in the midst of fire and brimstone. His goal, as indicated by the title, is to find his way out--ideally with Alison and Alan in tow.

This is the kind of game that could be fun and interesting or cringe-worthy and stupid depending on the quality of the narration. So far, it's doing a good job walking right on the line, but it could go anywhere.

This was reasonably funny.

The second 1990 game developed by Electronic Arts using the Wasteland engine, Escape lies somewhere between Wasteland and Fountain of Dreams in quality. The story so far is better than Fountain and the graphics are better than both preceding games, but it doesn't have the puzzle or role-playing complexity of Wasteland. As such, it's been an amusing little diversion, not unlike Seaborne's Prophecy.

The party navigates fire, brimstone, and pitchforks.
            
There's no character creation as such--Richard has fixed statistics for strength, intelligence, piety, agility, and stamina. Like the other games using the engine, there is a selection of passive skills (e.g., fist fighting, rifle combat, archery, acrobatics) and active skills (e.g., bluffing, lockpicking), all of which increase with use and with occasional NPC trainers. Leveling is through a standard accumulation of experience.

The main character after a few hours. He started at Level 0, so I have risen one level.
              
Combat uses a variant of the system developed way back in The Bard's Tale and used by almost all Interplay games to date. Each character chooses to attack, defend, hide, or run in any given round. Each weapon has an effective range, but unlike some of the other games, enemies can only attack from three (long), two (medium), or one (short) squares away. They can attack in multiple groups of multiple enemies each, and if attacking, you have to target the chosen group. The character who makes the kill gets the experience and whatever valuables the enemy was carrying.

               
Some of the combats are pretty hard. I doubt there's any way to resurrect dead NPCs, so I've been reloading when they die. If Richard dies, the game ends with a note that you've died. I don't know why the game didn't just have you wake up in your room in Hell again. That seems obvious.
 
Do I go to Hell's Hell now?

The basic gameplay experience so far has been to explore Hell and its various divisions, talk to NPCs, collect puzzle items, and fight random combats with fiends along the way. There's one large main cave (a map is helpfully provided in the manual) with entrances to smaller maps like Limbo, the City on the Edge of Eternity, and the Hell Guard Recruitment Center.

The game paraphrases quotes from real historic figures.

The game features the second use of nudity that we've seen in my list in a western RPG. I don't know if this one or Wizardry VI came first. All the female NPCs seem to look like this.
       
I started in small room with a chest, a sign, and a phonebooth. I don't know if the phonebooth was supposed to have come with me; that wouldn't make sense because the opening screenshots showed me at home when I got the call. Either way, the severed telephone handset was in my inventory along with a knife and a book of matches.

The opening room.
           
The chest held a cross, a silver flask with a healing elixir, and a pouch of fairy dust. A note warned me to save the cross and elixir for "when the powers of Hell are about to overtake you" and to use the fairy dust only in "dire need."
         
A skeleton blocked my way into the caverns and I wasn't strong enough to defeat him by myself, so I started by going the only direction I could, to the City on the Edge of Eternity. In this sub-map, I started meeting a bunch of random NPCs. A guy named Brad gave me a free laptop, which I honestly forgot was a thing as early as 1990. Stalin joined my cause because he believed that "capitalism is the wave of the future" and we needed to "overthrow the red devil" for "our right to vote for a free democratic Hell."

A skeleton blocks my path. I needed Josef Stalin and Genghis Khan to defeat him.
        
In an alley, we grabbed a couple garbage can lids to use as shields. In Hell's Waiting Room, I got a ticket that promised me an audience with Minos, the ruler of this level, on April 1, 3024 "plus or minus several decades." A receptionist attacked me when she scanned me for identification and realized that I was alive. That didn't seem to otherwise have long-term consequences.

Genghis Khan joined my party at some point, armed with a broadsword. A guy named Melrose Amber, after hearing my story, gave me a pair of shades that would protect me against psychic attacks. A clown gave me a smiley face button.

Exploring a building in Limbo. Some foresaken souls apparently get their own rooms and beds.
           
When I'd finished exploring, I returned to the outer area and used my two new friends to kill the skeleton and escape into the caverns of Hell. I was attacked frequently by "stench beasts," Hell privates, Neanderthals, and--oddly enough--Indians.

This was not a good year for Indians in RPGs.

The presence of Indians in Hell is probably a reflection of the game's Catholic theology. One of the sub-areas off the main cavern is Limbo, or the "Place for Virtuous Pagans," where all the decent people went before Jesus Christ redeemed mankind and opened the way to Heaven.

Pity the poor Neanderthals for existing 40,000 years before the birth of Christ.

I met Virgil, Cleopatra, Nero, Aristotle, Socrates, Tamerlaine, Helen of Troy, and some Roman soldiers there. Oddly, Benedict Arnold and Shakespeare were there as well. Shakespeare gave me Yorick's Skull. I later gave the skull to Hamlet, who joined me (I dumped Stalin 'cause he was...you know...Stalin) with a dueling sword.
        
I find the Prince in "the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns."
         
Hamlet isn't the only fictional character here: I ran into Horatio and Juliet, too (the latter in Hell for her suicide).

It was the Athenian philosopher Thucydides who gave me the rundown of the stucture of Hell. Originally one level, Satan has over the years expanded it to three. Various NPCs told me that Alan went to Level 2, which is apparently ruled by Al Capone. The hole from Level 1 to Level 2 is quite deep, and I need a parachute to descend. So far, I haven't figured out how to get one.

An NPC recognizes that I'm alive, and gives me some useful information about my friend.
       
A few NPCs imparted training just for talking to them, raising my skill level with the bow and rifle. The scores also go up occasionally in combat, just as in Wasteland. NPCs often give you quest items or things that might be quest items--it's hard to tell--and between that and the weapons you loot from combats, it's a constant struggle to shuffle inventory and make sure you have a few clear slots. Weapons break, so you need to carry some backups. There's no ammo--firearms and bows just run out of shots and become useless. There also appears to be no economy.

The game's approach to skill development.

As we wrap up, I'm exploring the Hell Guard Recruitment Center, hoping to find that parachute somewhere. I assume the levels get bigger and more complicated as you descend; if not, we're looking at a short game. My big question right now is whether the game is truly going to resolve its story--whether there's any interesting mystery behind the incantation that brought me here--or whether it's just an excuse for silly setpieces.

Time so far: 3 hours
Reload count: 4
        
*****

Further reading: My series of posts on Wasteland, which provided Escape from Hell its engine; Fountain of Dreams also used Wasteland's engine and also came out this year. Prophecy I: The Fall of Trinadon was an earlier Seaborne RPG.



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.

DND
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.