Sunday, February 22, 2015

Quest for the Unicorn: Lore Tour

Finally, someone has something to say about unicorns!

A few hours into Quest for the Unicorn, I realized two things. First, I had no idea where to go or what to do. Second, hunger comes upon you so quickly that it discourages random outdoor exploration. You burn all your food in minutes.

Needing some direction, I decided to travel around to the major cities via the "travel agent" and collect as much lore as possible. (There's a travel agent in each city; I'm not sure if the transportation is supposed to be magical or if I'm paying for passage in a carriage or something.) To fund this journey, I first had to spend a lot of time exploring the dungeons, picking up loot, and lugging it back to town for resale every time my pack got full. Fortunately, I didn't have any trouble finding dungeons. Every city seems to have one nearby, and there are around 60 total in the game.

Exploring a dungeon. I'm in the upper-right. To my left is a scroll (either lore or spell), an orc-like monster, and a cleric NPC. I don't know why NPCs can walk around unmolested by monsters.

Both The Land and Quest for the Unicorn have pretty good economies. It takes a long time to earn money, especially at low dungeon levels, and there are lots of wonderful things to spend it on--mounts, ships, skill level increases, lore searches, and magic items among them. I didn't really get to experience this in The Land because I used the broken "Die Square" gambling game to make hundreds of thousands of gold pieces in less than 10 minutes. But this game, lacking such an exploit, forces you to collect items for resale to get rich.

It'll be a long time before I can spend money on training.

The one major economic imbalance is that the cost of item identification is far greater than the item value. For instance, I currently have a "periapt" around my neck that costs 2,500 to identify but sells for only 784. Thus, I find myself selling lots of magical stuff (primarily weapons) without ever finding out what it is.

Selling my pack items. This spear is clearly magical, but it will cost more than it's worth to tell me exactly how magical.

The inventory system in this engine is reasonably good. You get a lot more equipped slots than the typical RPG, including four belt slots and four rings. I don't really like the way the pack works, though. Every time you want to eat (in dungeons or towns), read a scroll, or quaff a potion, you first have to get the item into the "up in air" slot, which means using the (t)ake from pack command and scrolling through the items one by one until you find the one that you want. I wish Mike had implemented some contextual filtering here, so that when you choose (r)ead, only readable items appear, and when you choose (e)at, only food and drink appear. Especially when your pack is loaded after a dungeon exploration, it's annoying to scroll through a bunch of pikes, spears, swords, shields, and armor to find the iron rations I want to eat.

Chester's inventory slots. I'm not sure what a Cloak of Elvenkind does in this game, but it seems like a good thing to have.

From NPCs in the dungeons and in towns, I've been able to expand my party to include a pixie, an acolyte, and a "prestidigitator." You get NPCs to join you by simply hitting "J" when standing next to them, though they don't always agree. I also bought a horse in one of the cities (only one city, I think, sells mounts), and he shows up as a party member. Party members have their own levels and hit points, and they earn experience from successful kills in combat. They control themselves when you fight.

My party member roster.

And the party in action, against a couple of orcs.

Based on Mike Riley's comments, I edited the configuration to increase the maximum dungeon level to 5. Since dungeons get harder as you go down, by having them only go to 2 levels, I was ensuring I'd always get easy combats and thus not progress very quickly. While I was editing the file, I also set the flag to go into "full combat mode" for all encounters. This forces the game to bring up the tactical combat screen even if I'm only facing a single enemy (by default, you fight single enemies on the main screen and parties on the full screen). This has a couple of advantages. First, it lets my party members participate in the battle. Second, it means that I'm not the only one taking hit point damage when we fight. Third, it allows me to hang back and fire ranged weapons while my party members swarm the foes. Finally, you can stand and wait on the combat screen after all enemies are dead, recharging hit points without passing time in the real world.

As I said, in between combats and dungeon visits, I visited the eight major cities of the land, in turn, via the travel agent, (t)alking to everyone I could find to amass lore entries. The first seven cities had mostly geographic and historical information ("Lake Quenar is located inside the Ring Ridges"; "Solat was once the capital of the Old Realm but is now only ruins"), but I hit the jackpot with the eighth city, called Nichorville. (Perhaps for this reason, it was the most expensive to travel to.) Almost every dialogue resulted in a piece of quest-specific lore, differentiated from the others by text color.

One of three pages of lore.

When I was done with my "lore tour," I knew that the game world is an island continent called Halkanar. Its capital city is Malduk, and the land consists of a number of provinces and regions, including the Northern Realm, Radon Valley (named after a wizard of the same name), the Great Desert, the Kobold Mountains, Marduk Vale, and the Enchanted Lands.

The unicorns disappeared a long time ago from the Valley of the Unicorns. They were apparently captured by someone named Eshter and taken through "the Gateway." I don't know where the Gateway is, but I know that three items are needed to enter it: a Talisman to find it, an "Aurafax" to activate it, and the Amulet of Yathun to enter it.

The Talisman was last in the possession of someone named Elanther. I don't know who he was except that he was "the builder of the Talning rod" and his followers built a series of temples. In a place called Elanther's Forge, he was defeated by someone. Elanther's Forge is in the Ring Ridges, which are in the Enchanted Lands, east of the Radon River. Since Radon River flows past the starting city of Radon, I have a basic idea how to start searching for this.

The Aurafax was last in the possession of Caldnar, a deceased mighty wizard last seen in the Northern Realm. His tomb reportedly holds a "mystical light weapon."

The Amulet of Yathun was last seen in Larkon, once a major city until it was destroyed "during the Caldnar Droughts." (During that event, or sometime before or after, will-o-wisps drove the people away from the city.) The ruins of Larkon are at the head of the Anjar River, north of the Enchanted Lands.

Lore also talks about:

  • A great sword that existed in the Old Realm. It might be the same mystical sword that was "once lost in Areth Knoll," a valley in the Coastal Mountains, which are located west of the Great Desert. I assume, therefore, this is on the west side of the game world, but I otherwise don't know where to go.
  • A "strange machine" that can be found under Lone Peak. It might be the same machine that's called the "picture machine," which only works at the bottoms of dungeons.
  • A "Triad of Might" consisting of a Crown of Might (last seen in the ruins of Solat, located northeast of New Solat, a visitable town), a Sceptre, and an Orb of Might (rumored to be in the Black Hole). You need all three pieces for their power to work.

There are a number of open questions, including the location of Caldnar's Tomb and the location of the Orb of Might, but these assembled facts gave me a little to go on, and I decided to head east from the Radon River and see if I could find the Enchanted Lands. So far, I've been stymied by a wall of uncrossable mountains, making me suspect that perhaps one does not simply walk into the Enchanted Lands. A pegasus, the lowest level of flying party member, costs 125,000 gold, so either I have to find a way around the mountains or start saving up for this mount. (The most expensive, a platinum dragon, costs 750,000 and sounds awesome.)

The automap fills in as I try to make my way east.
Lots of miscellaneous comments:

  • You find a lot of scrolls in dungeons. Some of them have lore similar to what you'd get in the towns; some are spell scrolls; some have gibberish. I assume the latter ones are lore scrolls but I didn't make a "Language" skill check.
  • One more level and my paladin starts getting spells.
  • I still haven't "proven my worth" to the Cavalier's Guild. I don't know what they want from me.
  • Five of the eight cities use the same map. This is great because the cities are quite large, and it's hard enough to memorize the store locations on a single map, let alone eight separate ones.
  • There's a snake-like creature in the dungeons that has a special attack that puts me to sleep. I don't know how many turns it lasts, but it lasts long enough for the creature to kill me every time.

A snake slowly kills me while I doze.

  • I have no idea why you'd pay for healing in a town. Hit points recover at a rate of one every couple of steps, and if you're already in a town, it's an easy matter to just regenerate by walking around.
  • When you're outside, the (e)at command selects food from your backpack automatically. When inside, it forces you to select the ration or drink from the backpack. I wish it just automatically selected your meal every time.
  • There's really good in-game documentation of icons--another reference to the game's roguelike heritage.

I like the engine and mechanics of Quest for the Unicorn, and I admire what Mike tried to do with such a large, open world to explore. Like a lot of early games (and shareware titles in particular), a lack of variance in the dungeons and an overall lack of content undermine the size and ambition of the game, but it's still reasonably fun. I do wish Mike still had the manual and backstory.

It seems likely that there will be a lot of grinding coming up, so I'll probably get started on Space: 1889 while I try to complete this game.

Time so far: 6 hours
Reload count: 18 


Coming up, I've already started to play Space: 1889, and  you should see a post about it on Tuesday. Looking past that, does anyone want to try to convince me that Circuit's Edge is actually an RPG? It has RPG-like attributes, yes, but it doesn't seem to have any character development (aside from inventory-based development), and the entire feeling of the game is more akin to an adventure game. 


  1. It's definitely an adventure game.

    Inventory is very limited and is mainly used to solve the puzzle.
    Statistics and skills also mainly the same purpose.

    But most of all fights are very rare and are more events than as part of the skirmish. Moreover, you have only one option "fight" in the menu actions, which can not even be used when someone attacks you, eg sending to someone bullies you. There is no experience for the fights.

    RPG elements are located in this game, but they are extremely rare.

    In my opinion, you can let go sobvie this title.

    1. I never played Circuit's Edge, but there is a write-up of it over on Trickster's blog. From that description, it really doesn't look like it fits your criteria for a CRPG.

      I'd second the skip recommendation

    2. Thirded. I've played it through to the end. It's interesting, has a unique setting, and as adventure games go is worth a look. However, it is not an RPG, at all.

    3. I'm sitting on the fence though. Arguably, it has enough to fit Chet's criteria and if Sierra's QFG is accepted, it would be a waste for Infocom's take on Adventure/RPG hybrid be forsaken.

      On the other hand, yeah, I also agree that it is more heavy on the Adventure side rather than the CRPG side.

  2. Maybe pegasus only carries one person? Maybe the cavalier's guild requires you have a mount?

    1. As it happens, I later found a pegasus hanging around a dungeon and got him to join me for free, so $125,000 saved! He seems to carry everyone, but no effect on the cavalier's guild.

    2. Yes, you can find Pegasus in dungeons once you get to certain levels. The Pegasus is a flying mount and will let you fly over mountains, so those mountains blocking you from the Enchanted Lands can now be flown over.

      Also, the Cavalier's guild will change your class to Cavalier if you join them. There are advantages to class changes, mainly it allows you to level from level 1 again but keep all existing hit points, mana points, spell, items, and skills. Generally tho you do not want to class change until you have everything from your current class that you want.

  3. I bet the only thing the Cloak of Elvenkind does is make you acting condescending towards all humans while maintaining an insufferable air of superiority.

    So minus one to Charisma?

    1. Nah, more like "accurate 2nd Edition description". TSR/WoTC toned down the racial dynamics/dysfunctions as the editions progressed. I just happen to prefer 2nd Edition, probably because I was a kid when it came out.

    2. A Cloak of Elvenkind increases defense.

    3. That's how I role-play all my elven characters, too.

  4. I like the possibility to wear more than two rings. If I was an adventurer in a magic world, I'd wear ten magic rings on each finger.
    Circuit's Edge looks a little like The Third Courier, the Cold War "RPG". On first glance, the stats aren't really used in the way an RPG does it.

    Neither does the Conan 1984 game look like a CRPG. Maybe I'm making an embarassing mistake and confuse two games, but this Conan game is a platformer and I have no idea how anybody could call it a CRPG.

    1. I think you might have a made a better Mandarin than the one that was in Iron Man 3!

    2. I think you were looking at the wrong 1984 Conan game; the one on my list was a very obscure Italian game. I just took a look at it, but it's not an RPG, either. It's more of a text adventure using characters who have defined attributes at the start of the game. Both it and Circuit's Edge are gone.

    3. I like the idea that wearing multiple rings is dangerous. Like, you can do it, but the magical energy might cause you to explode or something if you're hit too hard.

    4. Crossfire has the concept that too many powerful magic items period can be dangerous. Depending on your level you'll get warnings that "Equipping that many items at once would consume your soul."

    5. In D&D you've only ever been able to wear one ring on each hand: Older editions even had rules on what happened if you put on more then one-- As I recall only the second one worked, but the first one started working as soon as you took the second one off.

      The dangerous mixing came when you mixed potions. There was a chance they'd explode, you'd get one of them becoming a permanent buff, you'd get sick, etc. I think Balder's Gate models this in part, as one time I took to many and had an explosion took out most of Kahlid's health.

  5. Escape from Hell is coming up. Published by Electronics Arts, a man named 'Richard' is attempting to, well, you know. It uses the Wasteland engine, but I continually make the mistake of thinking Origin developed it and Richard is a not subtle reference to the man himself, with Hell being EA.

    I guess Origin got all of its jabs in with Ultima VII: Part 2.

    1. Wasteland was one of my favorite childhood CRPGs, but I remember being very disappointed in Escape From Hell. I don't recall what I disliked about it, so I'm interested to see the reactions here.

    2. The description I've read of the game makes it sound very light-hearted, which isn't a bad thing, but maybe that's what you didn't like about it.

    3. It definitely is funny though... for people like myself who appreciates teenage/college humor. Doubt it'd be up Chet's alley though.

  6. Circuit's Edge is awesome - an unusual take on cyberpunk written by the guy who wrote the novels whose setting it shares, with a bunch of design features I'd never seen in a game of that era... but yeah, it's more of an adventure game.

    1. Agreed. Very worth playing, but maybe not for THIS blog. Its more of a text adventure.

  7. I'm not sure which game I played with an "up in air" slot, think it was Omega. But I hated it with passion!
    Otherwise, the game looks really good, even though I see some balancing issues regarding food and regeneration.

    1. Omega did indeed have one. I assume both Omega and Mike were influenced by an earlier, third game in this regard, but I haven't been able to identify it.

  8. Here is some clarification on a few points your brought up.

    1. Travel agencies use standard conveyances such as ships and carriages to transport you to other cities. And yes Nichorville is more expensive to travel to because of its lore centric people as well as the fact that it is deep in the mountains and far from the trade routes.

    2. Item identification in the dos version works like The Land, you identify classes of items. This is why it is so expensive, the next time that you find the same item it will already be identified. The newer versions use single item identification rather than class identification, So in 5.x versions identification is much much cheaper since now it only identifies the specific item. The newer versions of this game have over 1000 base items and 100,000s of permutations of items and so class identification was no longer reasonable. In comparison, the dos version has only 127 items in its inventory.

    3. Removing items from the pack was also changed in 5.x versions. The unpack actually brings up another screen showing the entire contents of the pack, which you can then select the item you want to remove, much better than the dos version.

    4. You are correct, when you get scrolls of gibberish you failed a check and you were unable to read it. General knowledge scrolls use the lang skill while lore scrolls use the lore skill. For those who like playing decoding types of games, the gibberish actually has meaning, the same character always represents the same letter, and so you can learn the gibberish alphabet to decode them. Decoding them this way tho will not place them in your log, since as far as the game is concerned you could not read it.

    5. The Cavalier's guild changes your class when you join them. You become a level 1 Cavalier and begin leveling from level 1 again. The advantage for doing this is that you keep your hp, mp, skills, items, etc when you change class. The Cavaliers only accept new members that have reached a certain level in their original class. The level requirement changes based upon starting class.

    1. Thanks for the clarifications, Mike. I think I'll become a cavalier when I can, because it just seems cool.

  9. This game sounds quite interesting. However, I have troubles compiling this on my Fedora 21 or Ubuntu 14.10 systems... Does anyone have a hint?

    1. Which version are you trying to compile?

    2. I am trying to compile graphical version found here:

      First of all, there was few compilation problems with libRcs 2.0. There was few compilation errors like this:

      rcsImage.h:503:10: error: extra qualification ‘rcspdf_Ref::’ on member ‘readValue’ [-fpermissive]
      LINK void rcspdf_Ref::readValue(int fildes);

      I fixed them by changes like this:
      - LINK void rcspdf_Ref::readValue(int fildes);
      + LINK void readValue(int fildes);

      Then it compiles, but next error is:

      /usr/bin/ld: ./libapp/cvscrollbar.o: relocation R_X86_64_32S against `_ZTV15rcs_CVScrollBar' can not be used when making a shared object; recompile with -fPIC

      Which can be prevented by adding "CFLAGS = -fPIC" to Makefile.include file... But I am not sure if this is correct way?

      Afterwards, libRcs compiles, with tons of deprecation warnings.

      Next, when compiling unicorn itself, it seems to need, not, so I needed to create symlink (and put the lib with symlink to /usr/lib64 instead of /usr/lib).

      Now, when I compile unicorn itself, I got errors:

      /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-redhat-linux/4.9.2/../../../../lib64/ undefined reference to `operator delete(void*)'
      /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-redhat-linux/4.9.2/../../../../lib64/ undefined reference to `__dynamic_cast'
      /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-redhat-linux/4.9.2/../../../../lib64/ undefined reference to `__gxx_personality_v0'
      /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-redhat-linux/4.9.2/../../../../lib64/ undefined reference to `vtable for __cxxabiv1::__si_class_type_info'
      /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-redhat-linux/4.9.2/../../../../lib64/ undefined reference to `operator new(unsigned long)'
      /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-redhat-linux/4.9.2/../../../../lib64/ undefined reference to `vtable for __cxxabiv1::__class_type_info'
      /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-redhat-linux/4.9.2/../../../../lib64/ undefined reference to `vtable for __cxxabiv1::__vmi_class_type_info'

      Which is probably because of -fPIC option?

    3. You can compile the game easily enough without using libRcs. The only actual stuff it needs from there are all in awlib.c, you can copy this file into the Unicorn source directory and add it to the Makefile. Still use the librcs.h as well. Some of the errors you are getting appear to belong to c++ stuff, Unicorn is pure c and does not need all that. You can get rid of all the libRcs errors by just using the awlib.c instead of the entire library. You can contact me directly at if you need further assistance.

    4. I still find it pretty surreal and touching to see devs communicating directly with players after almost 30 years of the game's release.

  10. I wonder whether Esther and Eshter are different people.

    1. Eshter is the correct name, Esther is a typo. They do refer to the same person.

  11. Hi,

    This is my Github repo :
    The game compiles and works perfectly.


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