Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dungeon Master: Battling Forward

An ear of corn found next to a sewage drain. Yum!
Being The CRPG Addict is tough around the holidays. My wife always wants to do things. Every time I settle in for a night of gameplay, suddenly it's time to put up the tree, or buy a wreath, or watch The Muppet Christmas Carol for the millionth time. Does this woman not know that I have a Firestaff to find?
It was Level 10 or the Nutcracker. I chose Level 10.
In my few stolen moments from the last week, I have managed to press through Levels 10 and 11. I am currently on Level 12, and boy is it a challenge. A quick question for veterans of the game: almost all of my characters are "adept" in almost all of the classes. Where should I be at this point in the game?
Dammit. It's a long hike to the nearest resurrection altar.
Level 10 introduced some nasty giant scorpions (which seemed to respawn frequently) in addition to the beholders from previous levels. There were some more tough wasps on Level 11, and a section where I had to slice my way through endless hordes of goblins or something. There were more annoying thieves on both levels; fortunately, these fall to a single fireball, so I got in the habit of keeping one queued for when I heard an annoying giggle.

Both levels also introduced a new element: choices in the doors to take. I found keys on each level that opened one of a selection of doors, and notes on the walls, like this one...

...suggested that I wouldn't be able to try both. On Level 10, this left a small space to the west that I was never able to explore. On Level 11, where I had to choose one of three doors, it left an enormous unexplored space. Something seemed wrong with that, but I spent a long time looking around for additional keys and found none.

I found a pair of "boots of speed" on each level, which seem to make my characters a bit faster in combat, and a wide selection of weapons and armor that I think are better than the ones I had before, but of course I can't be sure.
A medieval-style vending machine.
I had just begun to wonder why I was carrying around a selection of copper coins--some going back to Level 4 or 5--when I came across a room full of slots that accepted the copper coins and gave me magic items in return. These include fire bombs and magic freezing boxes.

This is a good time to talk about combat in Dungeon Master, because I've yet to cover it in detail. This game's approach is unique in that it's tactical but real-time. The monsters don't wait for you to make your moves.

Assume I'm facing a group of beholders, like this:

Offensively, I have five options:
  • Attack with a melee weapon
  • Attack with a ranged weapon
  • Cast a spell
  • Employ a magic item
  • Throw an object

But each of the options except the last has a number of sub-options based on the type of item equipped. In the above screenshot, Leyla has a crossbow, which can't do anything but shoot, and Nabi has a FUL (fire) bomb, with which he cannot do anything but throw. But Hawk, who is unarmed, can punch, kick, or let out a war cry (no idea what this does, but it seems to advance both fighter and priest skills), and Syra, with her axe, can either chop or cleave. Hence, when I click on the objects in the combat viewer, I get these associated options:

Swords can swing, thrust, or melee. Daggers can throw, stab, or slash. The Horn of Fear blows. The Mace of Order swings, bashes, or stuns (at least in theory; I've yet to get the stun to work). It's tough to know the best option. Certain attacks work better against certain creatures. Certain attacks take longer than others but do more damage. Since I'm usually trying to click through them quickly while taking damage, I find it hard to be precise.

The option to throw objects is an interesting one. You can throw anything in the game--suits of armor, swords, food--and each item seems to do at least some damage the the creatures you hit. But equipping a proper missile weapon and throwing it through the combat options group seems to do more damage.

Spellcasting is tough in combat because of the time it takes to look up the spell's run sequence and select the right runes. I have "fireball" memorized, and it casts fast; anything else, I'd better queue up ahead of time.

The video below shows about six minutes of gameplay, including some combat with beholders and giant scorpions.

As I begin, Nabi is poisoned from an earlier fight, and I'm trying to mix a cure poison potion to heal him. But the beholders get on my nerves, so at 00:12, I open up the gate, toss a fireball at them, and close the gate. I continue mixing the potion, but at 00:24, just as I'm having Nabi drink it, I hear the beholders open the gate themselves (I forgot they can cast "open door" spells). I close it, re-equip my weapon, and wipe them out with another fireball.

At 00:48, I prepare some more fireballs and work my way through the dungeon. I encounter a giant scorpion at 01:11 and pound him with my prepared fireballs, but pretty soon I'm in melee combat. Leyla and Hawk (in the back ranks) shoot missile weapons while Syra and Nabi attack with an axe and a mace, respectively. Suddenly, at 01:34, with Nabi almost dead, I realize I'm being attacked by a second giant scorpion behind me. I dart off down a side passage and heal Nabi with moments to spare.

At 02:19, it's time to get some more fireballs ready and finish off the bastards. I have Syra equip a magic freezing box and return to the battlefield. At 02:57, I stop the giant scorpion in his tracks and pummel him with missile and melee weapons. At 03:08, he dies. I cure my characters' poison again and then begin the long process of retrieving my missile weapons. They're not all here, which means some must be embedded in the other scorpion. I finish him off at 04:15 and pick everything up. After that, it's time for a brief save, some food, and a review of my equipment.
Attacked by a...pool of lava with tentacles?
I thought the scorpions were hard, but that was before I encountered the...whatever the hell this is...on Level 12. I'm still battling forward, though, and if my next posting isn't a "won!" posting, I'll be surprised.


  1. Nice going! I appreciate the inclusion of a video - maybe this is something we're going to see more often as the games get more technically advanced and less static? At any rate, keep it up - looking forward to your endgame posting.

  2. The black flames are not that bad if you choose your attack options carefully...

  3. Great seeing you progress. You should have maybe a few experts here and there at this point, but you're not far behind. One thing you didn't mention about the combat choices is that these are also tied to skill level. In your screenshot, Syra is missing the third option on the Hardcleave because she's not a skilled enough fighter to wield it properly. I found that this was a nice touch in the game : you could find new more powerful weapons, but still had to hold on to the previous ones because you couldn't use those yet to their full potential.

    On choices : you probably missed a key on the floor of level 10 which allowed you to pass through the other door. On level 11, one of the vending machines had a second key, but one of the three ways is forever closed. You didn't miss much, though, just different monsters - no special items.

    For me level 12 has always been the hardest. There are two-three different ways to finish from there on, I wonder which path you will take...

  4. Worth noting that Dungeon Master is one of the first CRPGs where doors can be your allies.

    In old-school Dungeons & Dragons (from where all these games are derived) dungeon doors are irrational enemies to the adventuring party. When you encounter a dungeon door in Original D&D or 1st Version D&D, even if it's unlocked, it'll invariably be stuck in its frame and require pushing (/making a sound and alerting the enemies beyond).

    At the same time, doors will always open, without needing force, for enemy denizens of the dungeon.

    The opened door behind the party will invariably close up on them unless spiked open.

    Stuff like that. The dungeon is a semi-sentient entity bent against the plunderers, which has some interesting Freudian undertones.

    More (about dungeon behaviour, not Freud) here:

  5. Trudodyr, you'll definitely see a lot more videos, since I discovered that DOSBox has an easy video-capture feature. I feel like an idiot for overlooking it so long.

    Georges, I just won the game and I found two possible outcomes. I'm curious what the third is, if there is one, but see my posting tomorrow for the two that I found.

    Good points, Helm. On the last few levels, I found that being able to hide behind closed doors and heal was the only thing that saved me.

  6. I applaud your perserverance. Real time combat is a challenge. I prefer turn based so I can consider options, but real time can be fun if you know what you are doing. I guess it is simply a steeper learning curve. Keep up the good work and if Muppets Christmas Carol is getting you down, suggest instead Rankin and Bass: The Year Without Santa Claus.

  7. Apart from the real "alternate end", I just meant the order in which you approached the Lord Chaos level, by the front door (13-14-7-13) or back door (7-14-13)...

  8. "The Horn of Fear blows."

    It does? Personally, I think it's pretty cool...

  9. Looking at your video, I'm surprised you didn't use 'The Dance' which served really well in this and all the DM-like games that followed.

    Stand in a 2x2 area (or larger). Wait for the monster to come to you. When he moves into range, quickly launch two attacks, and step to the side before the monster is able to attack. From this point you can turn and judge which square the monster will walk into next. Face that and prepare your attacks. If the monster moves before you are ready, just sidestep again and wait.

    You can usually melee down any monster this way, without ever getting hit. Some are quicker than others, so more challenging to dance with.

    Multiple groups require different tactics, like trying to isolate a group by strategic retreat.

    I see you standing still in front of those scorpions and just shudder and think back to how hard those things hit.

    Just found your blog recently. Loving it!

    1. I eventually figured it out, certainly in time for Chaos Strikes Back, because we had some discussions about whether such gameplay was "cheating." We came to call it the "combat waltz." I used it extensively in Captive and Eye of the Beholder.

      Thanks for commenting. I'm glad you like the blog.

    2. Looking forward to that discussion. It did feel a little bit 'cheaty', but the alternative was repeatedly getting pounded to dust. I chose cheaty and stuck with it.

    3. The "dance" is what brought me and my family (everybody played DM) past level 4, the "worm level". We used to stop playing there, because the worms always slaughtered us, and started again and again. We deemed them unkillable.
      But one day somebody managed to kill a single worm in a desperate fight and this gave us confidence in being able to beat them and so we went out and discovered the dance.
      The last 4 pairs of worms, which you can't dance easily, were killed by jumping down the pit and teleporting back up in hope of telefragging them.

      That sounds very noobish today, but don't forget there wasn't any similar experience available. We had DM and Bard's Tale.

      Also, DM and CSB were actually balanced around the dance. It made a lot of it trivial, but the games still tried to make (some) fights interesting and had really, really lots of riddles in addition. Unlike EoB.


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