I'm on the road again this week, this time in Charleston, South Carolina. This is significant because I love Charleston. It is especially nice this time of year, given that I normally live in Massachusetts. Nonetheless, I left the rooftop bar an hour ago so I could return to my hotel room and make this posting. This is what my CRPG addiction--and, to an equal extent, all of you--has reduced me to. I am also relatively intoxicated, so forgive me if this posting is riddled with errors and poor logic until I can correct them tomorrow.
As some anonymous writer prophetically noted earlier today, Level 8 took me a long time, but more on that in a minute. I wanted to take some time to talk about Dungeon Master's unique use of runic magic.
I reflected this week that if I was truly playing these games in chronological order, having never been exposed to CPRGs before, I would be noticing a lot of "firsts" that I'm am currently missing. I don't think any other game has featured a magic system like this one, although Ultima Underworld--sort-of a spiritual sequel to Dungeon Master--would famously adapt it. There are even elements of it in Ultima V (not yet played), in which each spell is a combination of syllables.
The spell system in Dungeon Master is a system of 24 glyphs in four different "tiers." I showed these in the first posting for the game, but I'll show them again here:
Each spell begins with a specification of the spell's power, represented by the first "tier." Some of the more basic spells, like "magic torch," require only one further tier, while others, like "lightning bolt," progress through all four. The power level determines the strength of the spell and the number of spell points that each glyph requires.
You cast spells by queuing the glyphs in the spell section of the screen and then clicking the runes to actually cast them. The neat thing is that you can queue a certain spell long before actually casting it, so all four characters, for instance, can line up "fireball" spells and then wait for an appropriate enemy. Of course, if I decide I want to make some potions before an appropriate enemy comes along, I lose the spell points I invested in the "fireball" spell. Such is the gamble you take.
The difficulty associated with remembering each spell's glyph sequence and the time it takes to click on them make it difficult to actually cast them in combat. I've discovered that "fireball" is a relatively easy one, though, if I cast it at the EE potency level, since the glyphs EE, FUL, and IR, all occupy the same position in the sequence of glyphs. Casting it is four quick clicks.
Discovering "fireball" was a major turning point. "Fireball" is really the major workhorse spell of any CRPG. I sense a "special topics" posting coming up soon.
The game reveals its spells slowly, through scrolls that you find in different parts of the dungeon. Levels 6-9 really exploded the number of spells that I have available. I finally find OH EW RA (magic vision; sees through walls), which many of you have been hinting at for days, although I found it somewhat overwhelming and short-lived. FUL IR (fireball) and OH KATH RAH (lightning bolt) were great additions, since before them my only good offensive spells were DES VEN (poison) and OH VEN (poison cloud). I found FUL BRO NETA (fire shield) early on, but I forgot about its existence at a crucial point (see below). There are a whole host of spells that create potions to boost my stats, although I've yet to really use them. Plain old FUL (magic torch) remains a constant companion; I found another called OH IR RA (light), but I'm not sure how it differs. One, DES IR SAR (darkness), I've found no use for at all.
The glyphs aren't meaningless, either. VI is a component of all healing spells, FUL shows up in fire-based spells, and EW seems to have to do with nonmaterial things, like DES EW (weaknes nonmaterial beings) and OH EW RA (sees thorugh material things).
I realized belatedly that nothing was stopping me from simply trying different glyph combos on my own, without waiting for the scrolls. But must of my attempts result in an error that I've "mumbled a meaningless spell," so I suppose I'm better off waiting for the scrolls.
Anything that results in a potion is a priest spell and everything else is a wizard spell. Spell points, which increase as I gain priest and wizard levels, regenerate fairly quickly. I've discovered that it's a bit of a waste to walk around with a full spell point reserve; even burning these casting needless extra "magic torch" spells or mixing unneeded healing potions helps me gain levels in those classes.
Anyway, it's a unique magic system. It combines the "spell memorization" theme of Dungeons & Dragons games with the "runic" system of Ultima Underworld and the "syllable" system of Ultima V and the "spell points" system of The Bard's Tale while, of course, pre-dating most of these games.
So. Back to the gameplay. Since my last update, I have conquered Levels 8 and 9. Level 7 I had to bypass temporarily because I was missing a key to a locked door. A sign saying "the key to the passage lies in hidden deep" kept me from panicking and worrying that I'd overlooked it.
Ghosts assailed me on Level 8. The only weapon that could defeat them was the vorpal blades I found on Level 6.
Level 8 was mostly a vast cavern composed of ghosts that fell easily to my vorpal blades and thieves, which were the most annoying CRPG monsters I've ever faced.
They ran up behind me, making a chortling sound, and snatched anything I was carrying out of my hands. I had to chase them across the dungeon, swiping at them as soon as I got into range, to get my stuff back. Level 8 also featured random fireballs that kept hitting me out of nowhere. I never did figure out what was going on with those, although they eventually stopped for some reason.
Level 9 was more of a traditional "maze," with lots of dead ends and turns. There were hardly any puzzles on this one, although it featured some tough critters. Again, since the game doesn't name the monsters for me, I call them "jawas," "weird crawly things," and "death rats." The rats were the toughest, swarming me two or three at a time.
A few stray observations:
- In the last posting, I showed an example of a button that was hard to see. These two levels featured even-harder-to-see buttons on certain walls. I think I got most of the secret doors because there isn't much blank space on my maps, but I can't be sure.
- Level 9 had an area full of traps, where every square I stepped on tripped an unavoidable trap and launched a fireball from the other end of the room. I toughed my way through it, taking copious damage and healing my characters with potions, before I realized the "fire shield" spell would probably come in handy.
- There was one puzzle in which I had to find something "lighter than a feather" and stick it in an alcove. A rote process of trying all of my items determined that the solution was chunk of "corbomite." If there was anything in the game that taught me about corbomite's unusual weight properties, I missed it, but the mineral itself is a reference to Star Trek.
- There are more stairs on these lower levels than on the upper ones. Some staircases go to unexplored parts of upper and lower levels, but there also seems to be a central staircase starting on Level 6 that gives you quick access through the levels. Getting to it on each level involves finding a "skeleton key" and using it to open a secret door (helpfully distinguished by a skeleton head).
- The game makes a big deal about your characters needing to eat and drink, but frankly I've found nothing but copious amounts of food and water. I've been lugging around extra food (and chests to carry it) since Level 1, and I'm thinking about just dumping the chests in one of the central staircase levels so I don't have to lug around the weight. Unless something else happens late in the game, it doesn't look like I'll have any trouble returning to these storage locations. Honestly, if you're going to require characters to eat and drink, at least make it a little bit of a challenge.
- I'm showing you these maps because they take a long time to make and, dammit, someone is going to see them.
There are five levels left to the game, I think, so I'll press on. Although this one is taking a while, it is clearly a seminal game in the development of CRPGs, and I'm grateful I was exposed to it.