Monday, October 8, 2012

Magic Candle: Dark Passages

"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.

66 comments:

  1. "You can say "magic," but show me a CRPG where "Carve Through Millions of Cubic Feet of Rock" is one of the available spells."

    Actually TES: Arena has that spell. I remember using it extensivly for carving a quicker way to the exits, or searching for secret rooms... and, well, because I found it enjoyable. :)

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    1. The blacksmith in Legend of Faerghail have a spell that let´s him blow through dungeon walls. It is very hard to attain though and I haven´t succeded yet :-)

      Saintus from http://crpgrevisited.blogspot.se/

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    2. I remember watching a youtube video about a game where you play a giant and you have the power to raise and lower mountains. It was an old game, not a crpg, but perhaps he made the dungeons. The dungeon builder wouldn't be a rpg adventurer, but a king, maybe the crpg universe inherited it's dungeons from another kind of game.

      Another unrealistic thing about dungeons is that the boss/ruler/king would opt to live there. In real life a ruler/boss wouldn't want to live in the deepest part of a dungeon.

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    3. I think that is called 'massive numbers of workers' aka "Dwarf Fortress" or more historically, Egypt. It can't be harder to build a giant tunnel complex then to build a giant pyramid.

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    4. There are massive ancient tunnels under Turkey from what I hear. It was in a TV program, but all I can come up with online is this: http://www.truthistreason.net/12000-year-old-underground-tunnel-civilization-stretched-from-scotland-to-turkey

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    5. Just out of curiosity wrote wikipedia search http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_city and gave quite impressive list ranging from ancient (Cappadocia, Petra, Paris Catacombs...) to modern ones (from WWII era to metroes, underground malls and other future postapocalyptic dungeons) without even including infrastructural, industrial and military ones.

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    6. Gold, Silver and Copper mines stretched deeply into the outer crust. Even some of the most ancient mines have thousands of feet of twisting dark tunnels. Can you imagine being that poor sob digging with very little light hundreds of feet down into the crust of the earth? Many of these mines often hit huge natural hollows in the rock, accessing huge open caverns deep underground.

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    7. Which is what I always took the Mines of Moria to be, combined with things like the salt mines of Poland where they built places to live inside the mine.

      I think the dungeon idea evolved from this concept of a huge abandoned system of tunnels that have been taken over by the untamed wilds/malevolent creatures. Often times in paper RPG they are explained by ecosystems of creatures who dig tunnels for some reason and the creatures who use those tunnels for their own devices.

      Imagine if undead existed in the catacombs of Paris, or goblins in the Salt mines of Poland. Actually sounds like a good plot for a contemporary setting with some unusual things going on that would fit well with Cthulhu thematic creatures.

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    8. Hmm...reminds me of the movie "The Descent".

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  2. bards tale phdo will let you carve through rock. Magic Candle is a game with lots of side quests and people to see and talk to, not all necessary to win the game. It just adds to the character imo, and is a nice distraction.

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    1. Phase Door doesn't actually carve through rock, at least not in a permanent way. Rather, it "will alter the structure of almost any wall directly in front of the party,
      turning it to air for exactly 1 move".

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  3. Yep. Dump Min and get another Wizard from the Crystal Castle, it's nice to have two wizards to get the drop on tough enemies.

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  4. Also, Wizard's Crown has the opposite kind of construction spell, "Create Terrain" where you can create trees, walls, etc. It wasn't too useful in the original game, but in the sequel, The Eternal Dagger, you could wall in tough opponents to keep them from attacking you, because in that game you could cast multiple spells in a row before your turn ended, unlike Sorcerers in Wizard's Crown.

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  5. The Dungeon as a Mythic Underworld (http://web.archive.org/web/20110720002649/http://www.philotomy.com/#dungeon) is an interesting take on how to think about RPG dungeons.

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    1. Other cool takes on dungeons:

      Through the Dungeon Lies Paradise: http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?481626-Setting-Riff-Through-the-Dungeon-Lies-Paradise

      I've done some writing on the topic: http://canageek.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/tv-dungeon-crawling-intro/

      http://canageek.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/saragasso-of-dungeons/

      and http://canageek.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/a-history-of-below/

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    2. Oh, I also forgot Voices From Below and The Long Stairs: http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?391379-setting-riff-Voices-From-Below-and-the-Long-Stairs

      and Entire Armies Go Dungeon Crawling:
      http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?476196-setting-riff-entire-amies-go-dungeon-crawling

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    3. That entire "musings" page was worth a read. Thanks, rs. I don't really agree with him on the dungeons part, though; I'd like some internal logic in my games.

      Canageek, of your setting suggestions, I thought the first was most interesting. The last one ("Entire Armies") was, I thought, a little reminiscent of the Deep Roads in Dragon Age.

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    4. That post was put up either January 10th, 2009, or October 1st, 2009. (Amarican dates are weird). Dragon Age came out November 3, 2009. So, yeah, it predates Dragon Age's release.

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    5. It's October 1st, 2009. Month, day, year. Anything else is just too plain weird. ;P But yes, right before Dragon Age: Origins came out.

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    6. No, it makes sense to use either day-month-year or year-month-day, so that you have them in ascending or descending order!

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    7. I work a lot with databases. Month-day is the only way to do it if you have that data (without the year) in a text field and you're trying to do a range search. That's my reason for preferring it.

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    8. International format is YYYY-MM-DD, which is acceptable. Randomly sticking the day in the middle is not.

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    9. Almost the entire world officially uses DMY or YMD, with the only major exception being the US.

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    10. See also: Fahrenheit, the Imperial System, green money....

      I have a theory that Americans realize they are at their height right now, and resist change so as to prolong how long they can sit at the peak of that mountain.

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    11. I'm not sure that makes sense. Are you suggesting that:

      1) Our "sole superpower" status is somehow bolstered by our adherence to the imperial system and the Fahrenheit scale

      Or

      2) Americans think it is

      Either way, I can't say I agree.

      I have defenses to both the use of the imperial system and Fahrenheit scale. The former takes a long time, but the latter is simple: it perfectly conveys the usual range of temperatures in the U.S. on a "scale of 1 to 100." That is, 0 is just about the coldest temperature you experience in the winter and 100 is just about the hottest. Yes, there are extremes that exceed that, but it basically fits. With Celsius, you have to frig around with negative numbers a lot more, and the positive numbers are less sensibly placed on an overall scale. As a guy who works with numbers, I could handle that, but for the average person, Fahrenheit is much easier to grasp.

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    12. I always thought that keeping or changing things like the measuring system had to do with how culturally significant they were for the country in question and whether there was any real economic incentive to make any changes. Basically:

      1) does the Fahrenheit scale/the imperial system mean enough for us as a nation that we would want to keep it no matter what?

      and

      2) do the benefits outweigh the costs of changing the system?

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    13. Addict; I'm saying, that there is an instinctive reaction that goes "Things are really good right now, lets not change anything and screw it up"

      Consider; You are literally the only country in the world to still either system. Even the countries that invented them (France and the UK) stopped using those before I was born. If it was a better system then Celsius you wouldn't be the *only* ones left, now would you?

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    14. Sometimes we're leaders that way.

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    15. Giuseppe: That would be a great argument if *every* other country hadn't switched before I was born. I mean, you are talking about countries like Germany and the UK that used those older systems of measurement all throughout the industrial revolution. I mean, the UK *invented* the imperial measurement system. Therefore, the US is the *only* country in the world that considers them not worth the cost.

      How is the US different then the rest of the world? They are the last superpower.

      This about it; it wouldn't be hard to switch to Celsius or Metric (Canada did it in the 70s, and most of us know a bit of both measurement systems, due to all our ovens coming in Fahrenheit, and all our scales coming in pounds)

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    16. Though I agree with you Canageek that most of the time when there is a resistance to standardization it stems from a desire to maintain control (i.e. Microsoft resisting IP based networking back in the day), I don't think it is the case here. It has more to do with less upheavals in this country that would cause people to look for something to change.

      I find it more interesting to think about the reasons humanity started using each system. Ten based math seams very arbitrary and also very human I wonder if we met an advanced alien race with 12 fingers would they find our fitting everything into lots of ten primitive? Imperial though is more work but seems less arbitrary because it is based on fractions of a whole. Of course what constitutes a whole one unit is arbitrary in either. I still have no idea why we have 12 hours in the day instead of splitting the circle into 16 pieces, though.

      All of the above paragraph is just things I have entertained myself thinking about but not researching, so take it with a grain of salt.

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    17. I don't mind splitting the day into 24 parts, I just wish 24 hour time was standard, the am/pm business is silly.

      12 might have come about as the result of the lunar cycle. 12 moons to a year, 12 hours to a day (timing night didn't come about till later).

      I don't mind that two measurement systems exist, though I'm surprised how many people don't know both (Not that I use furlong, fathom, league or rod). Ton/tonne is a pain however!

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    18. People don't know both outside of North America because outside the US no one uses it!

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    19. UbAh: Base 10 is arbitrary. If you are doing math related to computers you use base 2, or sometimes base 16 (With A-F as added on numbers).

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    20. Canageek: I am far too familiar with hex and binary due to work. I do think those where arbitrary in the beginning too. say we were a race that didn't see things as on/off instead we saw things in the schrodinger's cat reference of on/off/in-between would our computing process be trinary?

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    21. Hex is arbitrary. Binary seems more fundamental, due to its true/false basis making it good for computers.

      That isn't how quantum computers work. They are still binary, just sometimes both at once. Thinking about binary computers makes my head hurt; physics treats that area in between much differently then chemistry does (We use 'resonance' not 'superposition', so an average of both, not unknown state of one or the other), and I've only ever studied basic QM, so I can't really explain it.

      But no, they aren't trinary, they just use quantum mechanics to enhance binary to do things it normally can't.

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    22. My knowledge is a bit ancient and may be off, but when "computers" were being invented there were two types in the making. the one used today that uses 1's and 0's and there was another that used -1, 0 and 1. It tended to magnetize and delete itself though...

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    23. Brent: I'm something of a geek about old computers, and I've never heard of something like that. Also, I can't see how the logic behind it would work, since you'd need entirely different math then I learned on my CPU design class. I'd love to see a reliable citation for that.

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  6. So, "Chet", given all that you have been through already, would you say that the length of the game (far longer than most) combined with what you have been doing in that time, makes the game unplayable? I want to play the game so bad and yet I don't want to get wrapped up in something that will, in the end, suck diseased monkey penis.

    I love your writing, "Chet". Have I ever mentioned that before?

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    1. Thanks, william, I really appreciate it. But could you once post something that I can read safely while I'm eating?

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  7. Whale's Voyage (a scifi crpg) has no dungeons, but maze-like cities instead...

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  8. To avoid dungeons a crpg probably needs to be set in a vehicle eg. Faster Than Light - described as a "spaceship simulation roguelike-like".

    Or

    Revolve around arena-style combats eg. Final Fantasy: Tactics - described as a tactical role-playing game.

    In my opinion, neither game is unquestionably a crpg. There may be a more legitimate answer within either set that I can't think of.

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    1. To be fair, even FFT had dungeons. The "Deep Dungeon" sidequest is a big, difficult, dark dungeon, although it is optional.

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    2. Would "Mount & Blade" count? Nothing very dungeon-like there.

      I was going to say "The Witcher", but I think there are one or two parts that are a bit dungeon-like.

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    3. If I remember Autoduel has no dungeon.. But is on the edge rpg side.
      I remember playing a well-known roguelike which seemed to be totally outside. May be ADOM or a stuff like that. And I didnt play long enough, so it may possess cave or city and other dungeon features.

      I come to think that I like CRPG but I hate dungeon. More than 5 rooms and I'm lost. Roguelike are OK because you see all the current map on one screen.

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    4. Final Fantasy: Tactics Advanced didn't have any dungeon crawling.

      Wasn't ADOM, that was dungeon-heavy.

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  9. Ok, so dungeons not realistic at all? Are you familiar with The Catacombs of Paris? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catacombs_of_Paris

    What about the giant cave network found in Korea? http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/01/largest-cave/peter-photography#/01-vietnam-cave-714.jpg

    Less impressive then either of those, the Difenbunker (only 300 rooms, many tiny, but Canadian :D ) http://www.diefenbunker.ca/

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    1. Also, in a modern or future game, think about how many kilometers of abandoned subway tracks, underground paths and connected basements there are in a modern city.

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    2. To me, subways are the most relevant example. If we imagine that magic could be analogous to technology in some fantasy universe, then it seems not only feasible, but probable, that extensive networks of tunnels and underground structures would be produced by magical means.

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    3. None of those pre-industrial examples quite compare with the hollowing-out of entire mountains to house vast draugr crypts or building ten-level dungeons in the earth. Everything post-industrial is another matter, of course.

      I was being tongue-in-cheek in my original argument, of course, but if "magical means" are the ways these dungeons are constructed, it would be interesting to have some acknowledgement in-game.

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    4. This isn't a spoiler, since it's in the intro to the game, but in Chaos Strikes Back, you actually see Lord Chaos make dungeon walls and such.

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    5. Dungeon Keeper has you building your own dungeon by slave driving imps to dig it. If you can summon minions, why not use them?

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    6. Salt mines in Poland.
      "The mine also features a 3.5-km touring route for visitors (less than 1% of the length of the mine's passages) that includes historic statues and mythical figures. The oldest sculptures were carved out of rock salt by miners, and more recent figures have been fashioned by contemporary artists."
      (Quote from second link)
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wieliczka_Salt_Mine
      http://stoneartblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/daniowicz-shaft-mikoaj-kopernik-chamber.html

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    7. being in thise mines is what I imagine in a lot of games, its was strange to think how much rock was between you and the surface and it felt like if you wandered off you could get lost just like in a dungeon.

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  10. Oh, and to be fair, there is never any rule that you know every spell in the world. If the spell takes a month to prepare, it isn't going to help you save the world. However, a king wanting to make a dungeon could easily hire someone to do that; I mean, look how much expense civilizations have spent on odd things in our world.

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    1. I've often thought about that, actually. No matter how high my characters progress in levels, there always seem to be NPCs who know how to do all kinds of cool things that my characters can't, like enchant objects. I guess you could explain that by saying those types of magic take a lot longer and adventurers don't have time.

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    2. Presumably, adventurers are forced to be jack-of-all-trades types. I figure they're all survivalists, first and foremost, with a class strapped on top. Given that, the more time-consuming, esoteric professions (and associated skills) would be outside the ken of the practically minded dungeon spelunker.

      Allansia's enchanter may be the equivalent of today's theoretical physicist.

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    3. Yeah, that is what I'm getting at. Or the difference between a combat engineer and a standard construction engineer. You need a bridge thrown up? Combat engineer can have it done in half the time. (From what I understand after Hurricane Andrew took out all the bridged in Ontario the army had Baily Bridges in place crazily fast.) You need some fortifications built, sure, he is the goto guy.

      Need an office building built? Not the right person for the job.

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  11. A 2005 game Gods: Lands of Infinity for some (probably technical) reasons had no indoor locations at all - not only dungeons, but also castles, temples etc (those were in the game, you just couldn't enter them).

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  12. Dungeon Keeper, although an RTS and not a role playing game was all about how these creatures are created and live in dungeons to kill doo gooders who come to steal the treasure. It was so cool when it first came out. Good memories

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  13. "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."

    The roguelike UnReal World has no indoor structures larger than a small hut. It has the emphasis on wilderness survival.

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    1. Unreal world is fun to figure out how to survive and play with the world. I have been tempted to buy it and play longer than the demo but it doesn't look like it is still developed at all.

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    2. Hi, very late reply here but Urw is still being developed with several recent updates.

      http://www.unrealworld.fi

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  14. Quest For Glory series features 'realistic' dungeons IMO. QFG 1 had the Kobold Cave and the 'Back door' to the Brigand camp. 2 had the lost city where you had to get the statue of Iblis. 3 and 4 had fitting dungeons explained by the story which I won't get in to since you haven't played them yet... 5, which IMO is the most RPG leaning installment has defined reasoning for 'dungeon like' areas as well. The key is, they aren't large, sprawling areas and they don't have armies of monsters, they have realistic (for a fantasy setting) dangers associated with them. Sorry for posting to an old thread, but thought this added to the specific conversation as I slowly make my way through your fantastic blog!

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  15. When I run my own D+D games, with my own story, my "dungeons" are really just normal structures for the party to go through, an old fortress of say two or three levels, a dangerous section of a city and so forth. I like how in Pool of Radiance, the monsters of the slums think of the place as their home.

    Even more important is determining what is in the dungeon. There has to be a sound reason for a piece of treasure, a monster or denizen, a trap, a wall of sleep and so forth. I am not often successful, but I try to keep it integrated and sense making. It is not easy, but when the story and setting hang together it is worth it.

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    1. Yeah, agreed. Undermountain is kind of weird in that way. It's like a board game. I mean, part of that can be put down to the fact that some chunks of it are literally designed by Halaster to be a deadly catacomb, but you'd still have some sort of dungeon ecology going on.

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