Saturday, March 6, 2010

Game 6: Telengard (1982)

United States
Microcomputer Games (developer); Avalon Hill (publisher)
Released in 1982 for Apple II, Commodore PET, and TRS-80; 1983 for Atari 800, Commodore 64, and FM-7; 1984 for CP/M, PC-88, and PC-98; 1985 for DOS
Date Started: 5 March 2010
Modern CRPGs are for wimps, aren't they? I mean, you start out in some safe little nest, hear your back story, and immediately get a quest that involves killing rats. In no time, you're level six and fireballing kobolds. Where's the challenge?

Compare that to Telengard. Here is a full transcript of my first adventure.

Game: Your name, noble sire?
Me: Arturos
Game: You are now descending into the depths of the Telengard dungeon.
Game: Do you want to go (u)p, (d)own, or (s)tay on the same level?
Me: (S)tay
Me: North
Game: You see a level 3 dragon. (F)ight, (c)ast, or (e)vade?
Me: (F)ight
Game: You do 4 damage. It does 14 damage.
Game: You died!
Game: Another not-so-mighty fighter bites the dust. Do you wish to play again?


This game is crazy. I had some more success with further characters, but I keep dying while I stop to type this blog post. Why? Because although the game is turn-based, it automatically does something for you whenever you don't press a key after five seconds. And there's no way to pause it! I'm trying to make notes for this entry, and a skeleton just killed me.

Every time you hang out for a turn in a square, there's a chance of finding treasure in that square. Without even leaving the stairs at the bottom of the inn, I found over 1000 gold, a ring of protection +2 and a ring of regeneration +1. Six monsters came along and tried to kill me. Finally, a mummy succeeded.

What about rats? Don't you have any rats?

This game is crazy.

All right. I'd better back up. From all appearances, Telegard is a "Roguelike" game in which you wander around a dungeon, fight monsters, and collect goodies and treasure. [Edit: I didn't know what I was talking about back in 2010. This game is emphatically not a roguelike. It is part of the DND line that started with the PLATO Game of Dungeons. See the links at the bottom for more.] The manual sets up the adventure with the typical dramatic language of the era:

I am, alas, to be another of the foolish ones. A whole legion of them, really.

You begin by randomly rolling some character stats and giving yourself a name. That's it; no race or class choices.

As in Rogue, you can save your character, but every time you reload the game, it deletes the save file. Hence, death is permanent. And, as in Rogue, frequent. This is the only game I've ever played in which there's actually a keyboard command to commit suicide. (I'm not making that up.) Trust me, when you encounter a level 3 giant mere seconds after you created your character, there's not much else to do.

In Telengard, you see this screen a lot.

Gold is copious but worthless in the sense that you can't buy anything. But it appears that every time you ascend to an inn, the game converts your accumulated gold to experience points, which is swell. Not that experience points stop me from turning the corner and wandering into level 4 dragons.

I found out the hard way that you can't collect multiple swords, rings, shields, etc. When you pick up an item from the floor, it automatically replaces whatever you were carrying. Since you only have a few seconds to decide, you want to be very careful. Not that that sword +2 really does anything against the level 5 minotaur.

There are spells in the game which you collect as you advance experience levels. They're standard D&D fare: level 1 includes magic missile, sleep, and cure light wounds. Casting them is dependent upon "spell units." I haven't lived long enough to figure out how or if these regenerate.

I'm sorry to keep harping on this, but you die so often in Telengard it has to be seen to be believed. Here's a video of about four minutes of gameplay. I think I die five times.

Telengard and I are not going to be friends. I just came from a punishingly difficult game and I'm not much in the mood for another one. Since there doesn't seem to be any way to "win" Telengard, I'll give it my six hours, see how high a character level I can achieve and how low a dungeon level I can explore, and then move on.


Further Reading: As I progressed in my chronology, I found that Telengard is a commercial version of a long line of games stretching back to a 1975 PLATO game called The Game of Dungeons or dnd. Daniel Lawrence, the creator of Telengard, copied elements from the PLATO titles and developed Dungeons & Dragons (c. 1977) for DEC mainframes, then later tried to commercialize it as Telengard (1982). Other games in this line include Dungeon of Death (1979), Dungeons and Dragons for Heathkit DOS (1981), The Standing Stones (1983), Caverns of Zoarre (1984), and DND (1984).


  1. Wow. Well, at the very least, for a 1982 game, the graphics seem above-par!

  2. Nah, this was a 1985 or 1986 port. I'm trying to be more careful of annotating that in my entries.

  3. Fond memories of buying this game at Toys R Us and reading the manual all the way home! One of the best (and biggest) game boxes of the time period. And I wondered why I could never win the game....

  4. There are a few tips about how to do better than crappy. Reroll until you have a character with a high CON (>11) and a super high CHA (17 or 18) and not terrible other attributes. High constitution means you can survive the first attack (most of the time) and get away if you can. Super High CHA means the thieves you encounter will not rob you blind of your favorite ring of regeneration +22 (which I got yesterday before I died) or other magical items. The dragons and other bad guys may even like you and up the magic on your items by a point or give you something you don't have.

    Stay at home until you're ready to explore...(about 6th or 7th level). I go south one space and then just hit stay until something happens. If it's low, I decide what my risk aversion is, you'll get a feel for it after dying or losing a level and dying or burning and dying or falling and dying...LOL A good test is: can you survive one space from an inn indefinitely. If you've got ten grand gold, killed everything that came your way, and have +3 or +4 everything, you might be ready to wander. But have some scrolls of rescue and know how to use them.

    Scrolls of Rescue are your friends. They will not transport gold so when you go off searching for the holy grail in the depths of the nine hells of gehenna, and if your still alive after meeting a 57th level demon...use it. You'll be able to keep that +22 Ring of Regeneration, the +34 Sword, that were just lying on the ground down there, just no gold.

    But have fun. It's an addictive little game, but unless you love seeing the dying screen, roll until you get decent stats (space bar will reroll).

    Wish I knew where to get that cheat I used in the 80s to start with all 18s!

    The other cheat I remembered was, the game could be saved to floppy (5 1/4") but it you died, your character was still gone forever...unless you save it, then took the disk out so he/she could not be erased.



  5. DK, it's great that you have fond memories of the game, and I hope future readers note your comments. Thanks for reading!

  6. LOL

    I remember playing this game as a pre-teen on our family's commodore 64. We had a tape-drive, then later a floppy-drive. I don't recall losing character's permanently from save, but that was like nearly 30 years ago.

    I downloaded a C64 emulator on my PC and started playing the game again. It wouldn't emulate a drive so I wasn't able to save any progress. One and Done game, but it was still fun to see how far you could go in one sitting.

    Recently I downloaded the C64 emulator for the Mac, and again, played some Telengard. HOWEVER this time the drive emulator works, and no, it doesn't delete your character when you restart the game. My character has a 17 Int and 15 Dex, everything else is 10, 11, or 12. This character has died countless times, but thanks to a little luck and scrolls of rescue, I've managed to grab unbelievably powered items: +24 sword, +45 armor, +47 shield, +40 ring of regen and - get this- a +64 ring of protection. Only my characters elven boots and elven cloak are mortal level: +7 and +8 respectively. The character is level 11 (fourth level spells) and nearly untouchable by all but the most powerful creatures (just killed a Level 64 troll).

    Crazy game!

  7. It's interesting to see how different the expectations were back then. This was a time when the point in arcade games was just to get the highest score, and not to "beat it" or finish the quest. Nowadays gamers expect a variety of challenges and things to discover in a game to get their money's worth. Back then, it was about repeating the same visceral thrills over and over again.

    And also, because the arcade machines wanted you to put as many quarters in as quickly as possible, the games were hard from the get-go.

    Telengard seems to play like one of those quarter-eaters. You died? Just start over again, and see how far you can get!!! That was why you played back then, to challenge yourself and maybe get bragging rights.

    And the upside with a game like Telengard was that you didn't have to put in a quarter. Man, this was BETTER than an arcade game!! :p

  8. That's a good point, ronaldsf. Early CRPGs probably were influenced a bit by arcade games. Rogue, although it has an "ending," also seems primarily about reaching the highest score.

    You just gave me an idea. With arcade games, there was a tangible consequence to dying: you lost money. We should mimic that in computer games. You set up an account when you download Skyrim and specify a charity. Every time you suffer a character death, you get charged $5 and it's sent to the charity of your choice. Imagine how much more tactically we'd play these games.

  9. I had a copy of this game that had that glitch fixed, that I could restart a dead character w/ everything I saved to that point ~ I stupidly loaned it to someone who knew more than I did and fixed it so I could restart my character but I would have a BIG FAT ZERO stat
    pissed me off cuz I had so many x points it had a K+ at the end of it

  10. Dan Lawrence rewrote the file for Windows before he passed away and patched the errors about 7 times, took out the erase file from the original DOS among other things. I had had the C-64 version in the 80's and it's fun to kill a few hours playing a character old or new. The Windows will only allow you to reach level 22, I suspect it's a math algorithm issue.

  11. Hints if u create a character named demo the game is played turn base but u can't save

    If u want a permanent save character then start his name with SV then even if u die u can reload it.

    1. Weird, but thanks. I hope this helps other people who pop by.

  12. I have a version of the game that plays on my antique PDA -- PalmOne Zire. Unfortunately, the battery is no good, you can't get better ones for it any longer, and the Creator is Dead. (Sob!)

  13. I downloaded this game for dosbox because I used the play the game that was the concept for it, Caverns of Zoarre. I found that if i exit the game, open the game folder and find my save file I can copy it to a safe place and when I die I just copy the file back into the Telengard file. I do this every so often so that I don't have to keep starting over again.

  14. damn my guy kicks ass then
    ste 18
    int 16
    wis 15
    con 18
    dec 18
    chr 17
    sword 66
    armoe 41
    shield 49
    e cloak 71
    w boots 191
    reg ring 80
    ring prote 4
    guys have to work on yr game
    level 15 200hp

  15. This may be a rare instance where the C64 looks just as horrible as the DOS version, just with different colour schemes.

    Unsurprisingly, the game is not available from GOG, but I doubt there'd be many people lining up to spend any money whatsoever on this one.

    1. Turns out there is a "remake" of this game. Not sure how faithful it is, but it might be worth a look for the terminally curious

    2. TBH there weren't many such people in the 80's either who would pay $40 for it. The C64 version game was totally unprotected, and I mean totally. You could even get in and play around with the code, which was in BASIC. Consequently it was probably one of the most commonly pirated games on the C64.

      Ironically, that's probably why Telengard is so well-known. It wasn't as good as the other similar games which came out at the same time, but it seemed like nearly everyone had a copy.

      The remake is excellent. Very faithful. Whoever wrote that was dead serious about their love for the game.

  16. This game is so much fun. So challenging, but also charming!!

  17. If you can save your character without having it get deleted, save where a jewel encrusted throne is then keep reading the scriptures on it. When a characteristic goes up, resave. If it goes down, quit and reload. I have 18's in everything. Now if I could figure out a way to hack into the coding and remove the code where a monster steals something that would be great! Best part about the C64, so easy to hack into the programs!!!

    1. I'm glad you're excited about the game, but to me you're taking a game that doesn't have much point in the first place and ensuring that it has no point at all. Why hack and save-scum the challenge away?

  18. I did not expect a Queen reference in a 1983 CRPG for some reason. In retrospect, I really should have expected it given stuff like the reference to Hotel California in Ultima II.

  19. You can complain about the C64 and IBM graphics if you like, but you got the good stuff. The Atari port used the text mode with a redefined character set. Whoever did it was either lazy or just didn't know about colors, different graphic modes, and P/M graphics. The only colors were red, green, blue and white and that was only if you were playing on a TV because of artificating. I don't even think it had sound.

  20. In the 1990s, I was a member of the pen-and-paper RPG club at Purdue run by Dan Lawrence. One time the topic of Telengard came up in a group conversation and that Dan programmed it. I chimed in that I played the game on the C64 and, paraphrasing, he said something along the lines of 'Ah yes, I believe I added animated sprites to that version.', which the C64 version did have.
    More notes about Dan Lawrence: The RPG game that the club played was an original pen-and-paper RPG created by Dan and his friends and set in its own world...he would occasionally host parties for the club at his home...he was an interesting character and had the charisma/storytelling ability/sense of humor needed to be a perfect Dungeonmaster and it was always fun to play in one of his campaigns.

  21. I've been (re)reading you posts by order of game year. It is amazing the contrast between your early, personal style and your later pseudo academic, readable, style. Its a bit jarring going from one the the other in these early games.

    1. While I agree with you, I would object to the idea that I do anything "pseudo."

  22. Apparently Dan Lawrence's website is still up, below link to Telengard's page:


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