Monday, October 6, 2014

Dragon Sword: One Dungeon Down

Encountering the first boss-level enemy, at the apex of "Perion's Place."

Having Brian and Tim visit the blog and comment on their 24-year-old game has made it more interesting than it would be by gameplay alone. They've offered some fun stories about the development process and have taken my negative comments with aplomb. This earned Dragon Sword at least another 10%; since my last post, I've completed three more levels.

Unfortunately, what I said at the end of the last posting turned out not to be true: Tim's investigations have shown that they did not, in fact, implement limited gameplay in the unregistered version. It does appear that all 30 levels are available to us. Again, it's hard to see myself playing 24 more, but Dragon Sword has become a little more interesting as I see what the developers were doing.

Essentially, you can think of Dragon Sword as consisting of five separate chapters, all stemming from the town. I had assumed that the dungeon would keep growing in levels, all the way to 30. I was wrong. Instead, the initially-accessible dungeon, "Perion's Place," is 5 levels. In that dungeon, you get the code necessary to unlock the second one back in town. I assume somewhere in there, I'll get a code for the third one, and so forth, all the way to "The Lair," which must consist of levels 26-30. Because each dungeon is only five levels off the main town, it minimizes how much time it takes to get back to town after a successful expedition. 

Level 4 of "Perion's Place." About half of it consisted of dark squares.

Level 4 of "Perion's Place" was half-shrouded in darkness. It offered a few more teleportation squares (which always screw-up mapping unless you notice right away that you've been teleported) and a couple of "jumping" squares that move you a few squares away. Navigating the darkness wasn't too bad; you just have to feel for walls. In one of the squares in the middle of the dark zone, I encountered a riddle: "On wings of fire, eyes full of hate, flies the dragon named . . ." Only someone who hadn't been paying the least bit of attention wouldn't know that the answer is OIJNGATE. Answering it returned the message that "the Dark Mage awaits" and unlocked the stairs to Level 5.

Level 5 was more of a classic maze. The monsters got a lot harder, but there were so many magic-recharging squares that I never felt I was in a lot of danger. The maze culminated in a battle with Perion himself, surrounded by two packs of "moon dogs," in the center square. Perion was capable of instant-kill spells, but at this point so was I. Killing him produced a "Wand of Death" and a big pile of experience points.

The first boss dies.

The level had two message squares that opened up the path to the next dungeon. One said, "A man named Galt, thief tried and true, lurks in a pit hidden from view. A secret word to enter, one must speak, and that word, I'm afraid, is always bleak." The second warned me that I needed to "speak thrice the word to open the pit."

Level 5 of "Perion's Place." A previous message had told me that he was behind a "wall of darkness," which turned out to be that sequence of 8 dark squares.

Back in town, I checked out the several squares where I'd been asked for a password during my first explorations. None of them specifically asked for anything from Perion's Place, but there was a voice in the southwest corner just asking for a password. I've played enough cryptic crosswords with "obvious clues" to know that the password was, in fact, BLEAK. I entered it three times and opened up the way to the first level of Galt's Home.

There wasn't much to the level: tough monsters, a couple teleport squares, one spinner, and a few messages about traps, including this absolutely incomprehensible one:

I only explored the first level. The up staircase beckons to the other four.

Level 1 of "Galt's Home."

Both my cleric and mage reached Level 5 in spells before starting Galt's Home. The spells are quite awesome. "Party Heal" heals all damage to the party. I finally got "Raise Dead," which, unlike the Wizardry version, never fails. "Destroy" and "Disintegrate" are powerful Level 5 mage spells that affect single enemies; "Ice Storm" and "Swarm" are powerful mage spells that do up to 100 points of damage to all enemies in all groups--usually killing every one of them, at least at my current dungeon levels.

There are a few mysteries. "Recall" would seem to return the characters to the adventurer's guild in town, but upon leaving the guild, the party finds itself not in town, but on the same dungeon level that they cast the spell--yet at the guild's coordinates. I don't know if this is a bug or what. "Teleport to Stairs," a cleric spell, doesn't seem to work at all. The mage's "Teleport" works like MALOR in Wizardry, allowing you to specify a number of moves along the X, Y, and Z coordinates--but you have to be in combat to cast it. Once combat finishes, then it executes. Weird.

Casting "Teleport" in the midst of battle.

In general, the game does a good job balancing power with cost. "Ice Storm" and "Swarm" would be game-breakers if they didn't eat up 15% of my spell points with every casting. Just like in Wizardry, you have to economize and only cast when necessary. What makes Dragon Sword a little easier, however, is the ubiquitous presence of magic-recharging squares. If there was only one or two per level, it would still be very challenging, but the first level of "Galt's Home" had four locations (and 11 total squares) that recharged. While I love being near magic-rechargers and knowing I can sling about powerful spells with impunity, it does make the levels a little less tactically challenging.

There are a staggering number of monsters in the game. I started keeping track in the middle of Perion's Place, and I've catalogued more than 100 already. Most are used for only 1 or 2 levels, then supplanted by higher-level monsters. 20 new monsters were introduced on the first level of Galt's Home alone: bandits, bloodworms, burlgars, creeping coins, driders, gnolls, gray oozes, harpies, lizard men, minotaurs, mobats, murderers, piercers, robbers, ropers, superheroes, swordmasters, taers, and trappers. Many of these are, of course, drawn from D&D.

What kind of superhero hangs out with a bunch of murderers?!

The creators did a decent job implementing special attacks. I discussed poison- and sleep-causing monsters the last time. Several (e.g., assassin bugs, murderers) are capable of instant kills. Some, like creeping coins and piercers, can "call for help" and boost their numbers. "Moon dogs" have magic immunity and "ropers" can turn you to stone. Lots of creatures can steal from you, and the first level of Galt's Home had a message offering a tip for how to prevent good stuff from being taken.

Kids: poetry is about meter as much as rhyme.

Pixies are perhaps the most varied creatures, capable of calling for help, paralyzing, stealing, and turning you to stone. They receive first priority for mass-damage spells when I meet them.

Finally, before I go, I'll note that each level has offered incremental equipment upgrades. I've slowly outfitted my party with +1 armor, shields, boots, gauntlets, and helmets. I still haven't found any magic weapons during combat, and it's still a little annoying to have to periodically clear the automatically-taken junk from my inventory. 

Abacan's current inventory. That flail can go.

Some miscellaneous notes:

  • As Brian noted in a comment, hitting ALT-T, ALT-B, or ALT-J brings up little homages to the developers.

  • The game has music, composed by Brian's then-girlfriend, now-wife, Jennifer Anderson. I'm sure it was beautiful on the piano, but rendered on a constant loop through the PC speaker, it's what I imagine music in Hell is like. Naturally, I play with the sound off.
  • Until the last level, all of my characters were going up at least one character level for every one dungeon level I explored. That appears to have ended with the continual doubling of needed experience points. 

Right now, battles are producing an average of 1,500 experience points. It'll be over 300 battles to the next level.

  • Adding to the bugs: the game seems to freeze most times that an enemy with thieving abilities (e.g., rogue, pixie, burglar) steals something from one of my packs.
  • My armor class frequently fluctuates by 1 or 2 points for what appears to be no reason.
  • In an e-mail to me, Brian said he was disappointed that I didn't show the opening screen shot of the game--the first view outside the adventurer's guild--which caused many early players to ask him why they'd drawn an image of two crayons pointing at each other. It took me forever to understand what he was talking about--mostly because I've gotten so used to wireframe dungeons that my mind automatically interprets them in 3D.

It's like a reverse "Magic Eye."

I suppose it's time to stop procrastinating and get on to Crystals of Arborea. I'll have to offer at least one more post on Dragon Sword, though, to give it a GIMLET. I'll probably complete Galt's Home--another four levels--and move on.


  1. While I do understand WHY you are probably not going to finish this :) I must say that I will be sad if you do not. And while I do know that your sole purpose in life is NOT to always do things to please me (much as that may disappoint me deep inside), but I must say that even so I do hope that you will keep playing, if only between other games, until you have finished. I'm WORKING on getting it up and running and then I'll play it too but I really want to see you do it :)

    1. It's tempting to be the only person who can show a winning screen of any game, but it really wouldn't be a good time investment.

    2. So does this become the first non-bugged, winnable RPG that you stop since Bloodwych? Probably a good choice as the 'time sink' problem only gets worse from here.

    3. Personally I cant wait for the 2 sci-fi RPG's that are coming up. Not because I think they are both good, but simply because they will be interesting to read about.

    4. Yes, it would be my first purposefully-abandoned RPG in over two years.

    5. I'll second the "looking forward to Hard Nova and Megatraveler" sentiment. One of the many things I enjoy about this blog is reading about the games I saw advertised in my youth and was curious about, but never actually bought. And I remember those two!

      That said, Dragon Sword has been fun for the developer interaction and Warrior of Ras remains utterly fascinating as a study in early iterative RPG development.

      So basically, this is just a "keep doing what you're doing" comment. And don't feel too bad about only sampling (instead of playing through to completion) the shareware stuff!

    6. I am looking forward to Hard Nova, but mainly to see if the dialogue is as bad as Sentinel Worlds. "You beat me?! I am destroyed."

    7. If you are dedicated to the idea of quitting Dragon Sword, Chet old boy, would it be possible for you to email me your game files (saves, dosbox configuration, etc etc etc) and maps :) I would LOVE to continue where you left off... ? Does that sound acceptable or is it to late and everything has been trashcanned, recycled, deleted, wiped, etc?

      If it ain't too late and you are not averse to the idea, could you email them to william (dot) roeben (at) gmail (dot) com? I hate having to anti-spam edresses.

    8. By the way, I did try a little Saga (which is a genuine rpg/adventure hybrid but ... in French), so if you need help pipe in.

    9. "It's tempting to be the only person who can show a winning screen of any game, but it really wouldn't be a good time investment."

      I'm tempted in return to invoke the Everest model ("because it's there"), but it's easy to do that when it's not my time that's being invested!

      Still, the helpful presence of the developers, the unexplored territory, the fact that the posts have been entertaining -- all these things mean that I, for one, would welcome more posts on the game. (Wish I could say the same about our alien overlords.)

    10. I'm going to have at least one more, probably two more, posts, and then we'll see. William, do you still want the saved game files if I'm going to keep playing, or only if I stop definitively?

    11. If you DO stop playing, Chet, then yes please- I would certainly appreciate if you could send me those files. I just want to be able to continue in your steps so that SOMEone gets to the end and shows the world :)

      I have a youtube channel ( where, 4 years ago, I did a 20 episode Let's Play for Arena where I got to the first piece of the Chaos Staff but then I lost my save files in a crash, got discouraged, never continued. If I get your files, I could do a Let's Play (edited heavily to remove the long streaks of boring) on the game and put it on my channel!

      Um, even if you DO continue playing, if you could send me a snapshot of where you are RIGHT NOW then I could do a Let's Play (or 'just play' :) ) on it and still show the world... we'd BOTH do it.

      Yes please, my very kind sir, I would greatly appreciate it if you would send me the files (can I have your maps and notes too? :D ) and I shall make a point to: 'mention this blog and your project and what a nice guy you are' as often as I can, naturally sounding and not forced because I shall bring it up naturally and not force it :)

      P.S. Given any thought to Nifft's idea of keeping a repository of save game files somewhere for posterity/use?

    12. Darnit, no way to go back and edit. My apologies- after posting the above P.S. about Nifft and THEN I remember, go back to double check, and there it is- your statement that you are going to think about it. Sorry about that. That statement is so grammatically incorrect it hurts my brain but I don't want to go through the trouble of writing it. It's easier, actually, to just write a paragraph 4 times longer than the original statement explaining why I am not going to correct it.

    13. If the game is indeed realistically winnable, then I'd love to see someone finish it.

      (Who, me? Umm... I can't, I have work to do. Yeah, that's it. I'm posting this blog comment and going to work right now. Work time!)

    14. Yop, got the save files- am hung up (but getting there!) on the config of this frontend Meagre.exe. If I can't get it to work it's either Dfend Reloaded or no front end at all. I can do that :) Then it is into the deep with all our friends! And damned lots of levels.

    15. If you only uploaded save files and config files you could probalby get away with using github or (better) bitbucket to make a save-game repsitory. I like mercurial myself, but I understand that git despite being far more of a pain in the butt has basically won the tech war.

  2. It's kinda funny how blog has been able to draw all of these forgotten developers from the woodwork's and to me that's part of the charm of this blog.

  3. I wonder if bard's tale took anything from this one, there was a galt's flute item in one of them, also the first dungeon in bards tale 2 had a level with half of it in darkness. Also the clues on the walls are in a similar vein.

    1. Bard's Tale was released long before this, so it's likely the other way round.

    2. whoops i looked at the wrong date

  4. The implementation of un-lockable locations within a single town is stunningly similar to the first Diablo game. The game may be tedious to slog through, but it comes across as having a certain kind of charm.

  5. The character of 'Galt' is a refutation of Ayn Rand.
    Galt in this game has a multiple story house.
    The house is full of monsters which symbolizes that Galt got lost in a maze of his own construction. instead of using his money for good he merely kept building new floors and ended up lost.

    1. How much thought did you put into this?

    2. He/She/It put enough thought into it to make it SOUND good though :) Even seems to make sense :D

    3. lol I can't keep a straight face any longer.
      In Chet's description most of the humans in the house are thief types too!

  6. This crayon thing is hilarious!

    1. I tried a spot test and just asked my wife what the starting screen looked like. "A crayon?" She's not an old-school gamer, so we've got yet another data point.

    2. When I look at it even NOW knowing that others see two crayons I cannot UNsee the perspective view. No matter how hard I try I see a street between two houses... Irritating.

    3. We should have labeled them red and blue...

    4. I tried similar spot test as Quirkz. I asked my wife what she saw in that screen. "Two crayons?" Her next reply was "two missiles". Then I explained why I asked this, she saw screen as it was supposed to, and we had a good laugh. :)

  7. I would like to propose an idea. Maybe it is a good idea....

    Is it possible to have a kind of save game/state file repository of the played CRPGs?

    This repository could be filled up gradually adding representative save files correlated to the posts of the blog. In the same way to the posted screenshots of the game, it could be terrific to have also some save files.

    I think this feature is in the spirit of this blog, and it will allow to follow the play in a more interactive way. For many readers this is also the only possibility to experiment these games significantly without the need to start each game from the start.

    Of course it is up to the reader to figure out how to use these files.

    1. Awesome idea! Especially since then it makesit easier for me to get his files. Good show my good fellow/ma'am, good show! If we could only get Chet to send us save files regularly, one of us could maintain those files somewhere- whether someplace like mediafire or some other system with a web interface and instant downloading (like sourceforge, github, like that idea). Other peoples's's could upload their saves as well I would imagine for games others have not done, or just to give people a chance to play in THEIR characters shoes.

    2. I've got 1TB of Dropbox space that would easily suffice for everything, but it's up to Chet as to whether he'd even want to do something like this.

    3. Games of this era fit in to a max of 512kb diskette so a terabyte might be a bit of an over kill, though. :)

  8. The "incomprehensible clue" is telling inexperienced players to keep a map. It's supposed to be in verse:

    When you find a trap, write it down /
    If you know where it is, it can be found /
    And avoiding it will be a snap /
    For the secret, you see, lies in a map.

    1. You're right. I had read it as "write it down if you know where it is" and "it will be a snap for the secret." Didn't we just have a discussion of "garden path" sentences?


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