|"The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak YAKLAMATOFAR and enter."|
The "dungeon" is an inseparable part of role-playing games, computer- or otherwise. Plenty of RPGs feature no dragons, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a single one that doesn't have a "dungeon"--if we expand the term to include all multi-room indoor structures in which one finds enemies and treasure. Dozens of games take place only in dungeons, and even those set in a larger game world almost always feature dungeons as mandatory parts of the experience.
|Some of the dungeons in the game are in obscure locations, but this one was pretty obvious.|
(To save an explosion of comments, or at least to direct them, I know that dungeonless games exist. The ones I've faced so far include Starflight, Wizard Warz, War in Middle Earth, Visions of the Aftermath, and B.A.T. All of them have somewhat questionable CRPG credentials. Can you think of a game that is unarguably a CRPG but that has no dungeons?)
|Ambushed while navigating a large area of pillars.|
Equally notable as the ubiquity of dungeons is their staggering lack of realism. It doesn't matter what genre in which they occur. From the multi-level structures carved deep into the grounds or towering high above the plains of pre-industrial civilizations to entire space stations somehow built in secret, CRPG dungeons generally make as much sense as hollowed-out volcanoes in James Bond films.
|"Remember: Walk on the left side!"|
You can say "magic," but show me a CRPG where "Carve Through Millions of Cubic Feet of Rock" is one of the available spells. (I'm guessing that would involve sulfuric ash, blood moss, black pearl, and mandrake.) Even if the dungeons could be built this way, there are hundreds of other problems with them, including ventilation, water, sewage, lighting, and where the denizens of the bottom levels get food. There's a reason that real-life "dungeons" were about the size and depth of a modern basement.
|"Repel"-ing my way through snakes, which somehow block the corridors and are mysteriously immune to weapons.|
Dungeons have been on my mind because it's where I've spent most of my Magic Candle time lately. After I solved my "stuck on the water" problem by restoring an older version, I made my way back to where I was and continued on, finishing the dungeon of Khazan and progressing from there to the Isle of Giants, where I explored the Tower of Shadrum. More on the plot information at the end, but the two dungeons together took almost 10 hours, which in comparison is how long it took for me to get through the entire games of Ultima III, 2400 A.D., and Questron II.
|Carving my way through a huge area of magical fields, one spell at a time.|
The thing is that they don't seem that large. The biggest so far has been Shadrum, which was 7 levels, each small enough that once I cleared them I could navigate them thoroughly in about 2 minutes. It's the "clearing them" part that takes so long. Among the things that keep you occupied in Magic Candle dungeons are:
- Rooms full of enemies
- Ambushes in the corridors
- Portals that warp you to other levels, or other places on the same level
- Trap doors that drop you to lower levels
- Snakes blocking the corridors that you need to "Repel"
- Magical barriers that you need to "Pierce"
- Narrow corridors that require party-splitting to bypass
|The party changes formation in case there's an ambush below. There was.|
Navigating through the levels is a convoluted process. It's not just a matter of finding the stairs. Some rooms have more than one entrance and exit, so you've got to pop into each one to make sure. Some portals hurt you by setting you back; others are necessary to move forward. My little node map got pretty complex as I tried to annotate the various portals and trap doors. There was one section of Level 1 with teleporters so dense that I could barely wander two steps without stepping into one. I should have mapped it, but I just got through via trial and error.
|When characters go through a portal, do "they" really step out? Or is it like the teleporters on Star Trek, where the people on the other side are just copies of the original characters, who were instantly killed by the device?|
Most of the dungeon rooms contain enemies and maybe a single chest which, if you're lucky, replenish your supply of mushrooms. Every dungeon has at least one teleportal room, where with the right combination of cubes, pyramids, and spheres you can jump to another dungeon or outdoor area.
|A typical dungeon room.|
Perhaps most important is the occasional "god room," which I've found in I think three dungeons. These are rooms in which one of eight gods are slumbering but can be awakened with chants found in their temples. Two of the temples were nearby in the overland area, but I have not found the third, so I had to leave that god sleeping.
|Could you maybe use your godly powers to help stop Dreax?|
The gods increase your maximum stamina, strength, dexterity, and agility. The stamina increase takes effect immediately, but to do anything with the others, you have to visit fountains (in other rooms) and drink. The results of the statistic increases are palpable in the characters' accuracy, how frequently they avoid attacks, the weapons they can wield, and the damage that they do.
The increases have been welcome, because combats are getting much harder. Rare is one in which Eflun doesn't have to resurrect someone at the end. The Tower of Shadrum presented me with room after room of ogres, the hardiest enemies I've faced so far, with hit point totals in excess of 300. (My average attack does around 50 when it hits.) At least I can pound away at them, and try to defend against their attacks with Nifts. The more difficult part is the increasingly more damaging magic-users, some of whom can obliterate my shields in a single spell, or who can paralyze key characters for 3 or 4 terms.
|Slashing away at ogres with the constitutions of tree trunks.|
As I said, Khazan and Shadrum took about 10 hours, but here's the kicker: I completed them for no reason. I explored them because I was working my way around the map, but I wasn't prepared with the right intelligence when I got to them. On the other side of Khazan was the Isle of Heavenly and the Last Unicorn, but I didn't know Sherro's High Call, so I couldn't get the Green Ring from her.
|At least I know where to find her.|
Then, at the top of Shadrum, I met the Ogre King. Plenty of people around Bondell had been talking about him--and about failed attempts of other adventurers to defeat him--but when I met him, he didn't want to fight. Instead, he invited me to ask him for a favor, and I had no idea what to say.
|"Uh...we'll get back to you."|
Leaving Shadrum, I found that either the captain who brought me to the Isle of Giants was a vile liar, or it took me longer than 15 days to complete the tower.
|I'm pretty sure I was only gone 6 days.|
I had to return to the tower and use the teleportal chamber to get back to the mainland.
|Teleporting across the mountains to the Tower of Shadrum.|
My next steps are to scour Bondell and Delkonia for any information out the Ogre King so I can avoid having to repeat the dungeon before it respawns. I'm also considering giving up Min. I have enough gold to boost another character's charisma (Min's only advantage), and I really need another capable fighter.
Based on my experiences going through two dungeons for nothing, I think I might abandon my systematic exploration plan and start chasing specific leads. But first, I think I have enough for some Mithral armor. If I want to replace Min, that puts my destination back at the Crystal Castle.