Thursday, February 11, 2021

Game 401: Sword of Zedek (1981)

I may be puny, but at least I could be bothered to center my title.
The Sword of Zedek
United States
Krell software (developer and publisher)
Released 1981 for Apple II, Commodore PET, and TRS-80; 1983 for Commodore 64
Date Started: 30 January 2021
Date Ended: 30 January 2021
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: 10
Ranking at Time of Posting: 21/404 (5%)
Here's another entry that really isn't much of an RPG, but uses RPG conventions to populate a different sort of game. Ten years ago, I would have called it bad. With the hindsight of 400 games, I call it bad but at least something different. 
Like the recently-explored Dragonsbane, Zedek is a short game, meant to be played in one session (there's no save ability), meant to be played multiple times before winning. You play a warleader--giving yourself a name is the only option you get--who has a brief 55 turns to amass resources before a showdown with the demonic warlord Ra. 
Gameplay occurs over a grid map of 9 x 10 squares (although there's a separate 3 x 6 map that I don't quite understand; it may be a separate indoor area). You can pull up the map and see where you are at any point with the "M" key, but you don't want to do it too often because it counts as a turn and turns are precious. This approach has a little in common with The Wizard's Castle (1980).
The "campaign map."
Each square can contain a few dozen of 12 types of creatures, including wolves, orcs, trolls, centaurs, elves, and snakes. Each square can also contain gold, torches, or one of twelve special treasures, including the Sword of Zedek, the Shield of Achilles, the Belt of Loki, and the Ring of Wraith. Usually, these items aren't revealed unless you (S)earch, though. Sometimes, squares are dark and require you to light a torch before searching.
My character halfway to the battle with Ra.
In any square, you can:
  • S)earch for treasure
  • T)ake any visible treasure
  • Try to P)ersuade the creatures to join your party
  • L)ight a torch
  • View the M)ap
  • Turn your V)isibility on or off (if you have the Ring of Wraith)
  • W)ait
You have to be judicious with your moves because you only get 55 of them before Ra begins his assault. While it's tempting to persuade any creatures in the square, then search, then take what you find, that series of actions will take at least three turns. 
I find the titular Sword of Zedek.
Each action has a chance of providing one of several special events, none of which require you to spend a turn:
  • The "king" of one of the groups of creatures might offer to join your army for a certain amount of gold. You generally want to say yes because if you don't, there's a chance they'll join Ra. But you start with only 5,000 gold, so you'll run out swiftly unless you get more.
  • The "bane" of one of the groups (e.g., the Bane of Orcs) might offer to join. The bane prevents any of those creatures from joining your party, but it also neutralizes any that Ra has.
  • A powerful but treacherous dragon may offer to join the party. He adds a lot of combat power, but there's a random chance each turn that he'll betray you and steal your gold.
  • You may get a random hint as to the location of one of the special treasures.
With only 10 turns to go, it's probably safe to accept him.
When Ras finally attacks, he has himself, 500 demons, and whatever kings and banes you unwittingly sent his way. You get to see the combined power of your army compared to his in a numeric score. Then the final battle begins. Each round, you and Ra do damage to each other's armies, and the game recounts your losses. Ra always seems to lose a minimum of half his demons no matter how weak you are, which is strange.
When Ra gets down to 8 demons, he'll flee, and you have a few rounds to accomplish anything you can to replace your losses. You can R)etreat from the battle with Ra, too, for a few rounds of respite. Whether you flee or he does, he will eventually re-engage, and he'll be back up to full strength when he does. You'll have to knock him down again. He'll do this three times before you achieve victory on the fourth round--if your initial army was strong enough. Otherwise, you die and the game starts over.
Round 1 of combat. I feel like I got the short end of the stick here.
Frankly, I found the game quite a bit opaque and unsatisfying in the final battle. I can't quite figure out how the math works. For instance, if I just stand still for 55 turns, accepting no allies and finding no treasure, I end up facing Ra with a combat power of 3 against his 1,380. You'd think that would be instant death for me. And yet I'm still able to kill 250 demons in the first round, plus a couple of his allies, before he kills me. If I face him with even a few hundred combat points, I can whittle him down and force him to flee despite having far less power than he does, although I usually lose in one of his returns. But if I begin combat with Ra with a high combat power, I'm likely to win, even if Ra knocks me down to a few hundred points after a few rounds. In other words, the amount of power you start with seems to have a continuing impact on the battle even after those allies are dead. Meanwhile, Ra always seems to lose the same number of allies per round no matter how strong you technically are. 
The game instructions explain the uses of each item.
Attributes are a bit mysterious, too. You always start with a combat power of 57 and an "eloquence" of 85. Because of that relatively high latter figure, almost all your "persuade" attempts work. Every once in a while, those numbers go up or down by some amount, but I could never quite figure out why.
That's about the size of it. Make good choices and get lucky in your 55 rounds, and you'll win. If not, you'll lose. I have to wonder if the later Braminar (1987) wasn't influenced a bit by the game. Although none of the encounters are quite the same, the overall approach--walk along, trigger random encounters, slowly improve your army, defeat the evil warlord--is.
I feel like "glorious victory" deserved an exclamation point, at least.
Sword of Zedek is credited on some sites to John O'Hare, who wrote a trilogy of 1980 adventure games called Adventure for the Commodore PET. He also did a PET conversion of The Wizard's Castle, which must have provided part of the inspiration. I can't find him. Not for the first time, I think all people who want to develop games should have names worth at least 50 points in Scrabble. "John O'Hare" can hide 40 years later. "Zigquoft von Bharketzhausen" would be easier to track down.

Oh, I suppose we'll have to have a GIMLET. Lacking a backstory, any character development, NPCs, and an economy, I wouldn't expect much. I suppose I can spare a couple of points for "encounters," a main quest, a workable interface, and brief-but-somewhat replayable gameplay. 0 + 0 + 0 + 2 + 1 + 1 + 0 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 10. I don't mind the approach, but the game needed a more interesting and less confusing showdown.  

Krell advertises Sword of Zedek in a 1982 issue of 80 Micro, alongside some other games and S.A.T. preparation software.
[Ed. A year or so after I played this, I learned that Krell Software re-released it in 1983 under the name Pythagoras and the Dragon with minor changes to the proper names but essentially no change in gameplay.]

That's about all I can think to say. Less than 1,100 words. I generally like my entries to be longer than that. I'm trying to think of anything else to talk about. I've been having trouble getting the Sidney Bechet song "Si Tu Vois Ma Mère" out of my head; here's an excellent version by Tatiana-Eva Marie and the Avalon Jazz Band. Ha--nearly wrote "Avalon Hill Jazz Band." I'm enjoying The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and that new sci-fi show, Resident Alien. I recently finished re-reading every book by Nick Hornby and wouldn't mind recommendations for similar authors. 
I had an idea for a time travel short story the other day. The main character is a decorated Army veteran suffering from PTSD from his time in Afghanistan. He is an alcoholic and drug addict, and he has hit rock bottom. He is estranged from his wife, having been arrested and evicted from his home after he got drunk and struck his young son. This is particularly horrible for him because he himself was assaulted by a stranger as a child: a man ran out of the woods while he was playing in his back yard, shoved him to the ground, and stomped on his leg, breaking it. The episode left him in constant pain and made him vow to never hurt a child. Despite his vow, this is not the first time he's hurt a child; he shot one by accident in Afghanistan, an event that he recalls constantly. We learn that he was motivated to join the Army by another childhood occasion when a man saved him from an attacker. He wanted to be a hero like that, not a murderer.
As the story goes on, the character finds that when he reaches a certain depth of grief and regret, if he concentrates hard enough, he can go back in time. He only has moments--less than a minute--but long enough to change aspects of his life. He begins by going back a few days and throwing a rock through the window of his house, stopping cold whatever stupid argument he was having with his son and preventing the assault and arrest. This is good. But further attempts don't work out. He tries to go back to Afghanistan and save the boy, but he ends up making the situation worse. He tries to stop himself from trying pills the first time, but he just delays his addiction for a short time. In this middle section, his memories start becoming muddy and more confused as the time traveling rewrites previous experiences. He remembers a doctor telling him he will never walk right because of his leg injury, which should have precluded his service in the Army. He can't remember if he started taking pills before he enlisted or after he got back; he seems to remember both. He can't remember if his wife and son are real; sometimes, he seems to be living with them; other times, he seems to be living with fellow drug users in an abandoned building.
Finally, in a moment of crisis, he snaps and takes himself all the way back to his childhood home. He sees himself playing in the yard and realizes that it's that day: the day he was attacked; the day he was saved from an attacker. He vows to break his younger self's leg so that he can never join the Army. He vows to save himself from the attacker who broke his leg. He vows to stop the savior so that he'll never grow up to believe that people can be "saved." As infinite realities blossom from this fateful choice, the end is ambiguous, but perhaps with a thin thread of hope that by not acting at all, the boy can live his life free from the weight of the past.
I'll never have time or skill to write it. Someone feel free to take it if you like it. I get 15% of any royalties or rights payments above $1,000.


  1. (Piggybacking off of the new post...)

    So that discussion in the Spelljammer manual about how "religion gets really weird when you find out that other planets have deities as real as yours" made me think... has there ever been religion in a CRPG that doesn't boil down to Greco-Roman polytheism or the Monty Python and the Holy Grail model of God? I'm sure we've already seen a few but I've forgot.

    While Legends of Valour had the typical Norse pantheon, it at least put in the interesting (though anatopic) Greek/Roman practice of mystery cults that required initiation. It's also not like the gang shows up or anything, though there IS a demon representing theo-supernatural creatures. Dusk of the Gods and Ragnarok, while putting in the stereotypical "religion is magic" element, at least base themselves on real religions and prophecies, so that's interesting (and educational).

    I also appreciate that, while Mask of the Betrayer has (ROT13) obgu Terpb-Ebzna cbylgurvfz naq trarevp Puevfgvna abgvbaf bs gur nsgreyvsr, vg ng yrnfg hfrf gurz gb cbvag bhg ubj gubebhtuyl evqvphybhf gubfr abgvbaf ner ol PBZOVAVAT gurz. "Jr arrq uryy orpnhfr vs crbcyr qba'g jbefuvc hf gura gur jbeyq jvyy snyy ncneg!" Arrqyrff gb fnl jura jr gel gb nccyl gung gb gur abezny Puevfgvna zbqry'f dhrfgvbaf bs "Vs Tbq vf sbetvivat, gura jul jbhyq ur pbaqrza fbzrbar gb uryy?" naq "Vs Tbq xabjf lbhe gubhtugf/pna qb nalguvat, jul qbrf ur arrq cenlre?", nal nafjre orfvqrf "V thrff ur jbhyqa'g?" naq "Hu... V qhaab?" unf fbzr ubyrf va vg, naq vs lbh pbafvqre gubfr cerivbhf nafjref gb nyfb or shyy bs ubyrf (vs fyvtugyl yrff fb), gura jrypbzr gb zl "eryvtvbhf" wbhearl! Bs pbhefr V'q yvxr gur jubyr "zrrg lbhe snzvyl naq tb ba creznarag inpngvba nsgre lbh qvr" vqrn vs vg raqf hc unccravat, ohg V'z qrsvavgryl abg pbhagvat ba vg.

    1. Morrowind's Tribunal Temple. There is a lot of ambiguity in Morrowind's religious lore, you get to meet the living gods of the Tribunal temple in person (who are just deified immortal elves) and you can find some holes in their official temple narrative.

      Joining the Tribunal temple as a faction member also includes an interesting and unique quest where you have to go through a pilgrimage towards various different shrines, so in a way it's an initiation cult.

      Then there's Arcanum with its Panarii church, which is based on an ancient elven messiah figure and is somewhat inspired by Christianity. The remains of the ancient messiah and his friends are considered relics like in Catholicism, and in one quest where you can help the church, they'll reward you with the finger bone of such a saint which can be worn as an amulet.

    2. I think Dragon Age does a reasonably good job. The theology is adapted from Christianity, though flexed to account for mages. In the three games, I'm not sure if it's ever clear whether the Creator is real, Andraste was divinely touched, and so forth.

    3. Bioware has said that while their design documents (locked away in a subterranean vault) define whether the Maker exists or not, etc. they have no intention of ever making it explicit, so the ambiguity is deliberate. Which I think is an effective choice.

    4. The Pokemon series eventually reveals that all Pokemon and potentially the entire universe were all created by a single supreme Pokemon, who you can then capture in a ball and force to fight chipmunks.

    5. I agree, JB. I was disappointed in Inquisition when they resolved the issue of whether the main characters was REALLY sent back by Andraste. I can only imagine how disappointing it would be to get a clear answer on the larger mysteries.

    6. The little-known ARPG Kult: Heretic Kingdoms (aka Heretic Kingdoms: The Inquisition) has probably the most interesting take on religion in RPGs. The god of the realm was killed by a hero, and since then all religious worship is forbidden. Your MC is an agent of the inquisition, whose task is to weed out underground cults.

      Another very interesting take is Pillars of Eternity, where (major plot twist spoiler ahead) gur tbqf jrer va snpg negvsvpvnyyl perngrq ol gur zntrf/fpvragvfgf bs na napvrag pvivyvmngvba.

    7. American society's definition of what "religion" is closely tied to Protestant theological ideas about faith and personal orientation towards God that go through Barth and Kierkegaard and Luther and ultimately back to Augustine. We tend to think of a religious person as one who believes a certain set of things, despite the fact that they can't be known for certain, and, at least ideally, makes a set of ethical decisions based on those beliefs. Religion in rpgs is very different, usually focused on practice and tangible divine intervention, with pantheons based on a kind of caricature of the Greek pantheon. I blame d&d for this.

      But what's really interesting is that characters in rpg settings don't really interact with their gods in the way practitioners of ancient religions did, either; animal sacrifice, the key ritual of almost all ancient religions, is absent, or presented as an occasional activity evil characters take part in. Instead, we hear a lot in d&d, Bethesda games, and other similar rpgs, about believing and having a personal relationship with a particular God, a concept which doesn't really make sense in context. Real life ancient religion was about using ritual to approach the liminal space between the normal and the sacred; using religion as a game mechanic has historically tended to slide any distinction between the tangible and the ineffable. I can't think of a game that does a good job with polytheistic or monotheistic practice. Instead we keep getting a misbegotten hybrid of the two. I have a lot more to say about this, but as usual I am posting with my phone while putting my kids to sleep and it's too hard right now.

    8. If you hack yourself through Might and Magic 7, you eventually learn that neither religion has a god or gods. Light worship apparently grew out of Aztec-like Sun worship (just minus the actual god), and the Dark-worship is even more nebulous. There's also the dark-aligned Temple of Baa, but whatever Baa is, it's apparently not an actual divine being most followers of darkness actually believe in, with the sole exception of the followers of Baa itself. So, you have the main religions founded in some fluffy non-descript worship of natural forces, and the actual believers in a god-like entity are crazy cultists everyone hates.

    9. I would argue that a relationship with a personal God in these games does make sense in the context that the God’s come down and interact with people. In real world ancient religion there were all these rites but the Gods had no real power. If a particular God gave me the power to cure an injury I’d probably strive for a personal relationship with him too.

    10. RuneQuest has an interesting and nuanced approach to gods and worship, but I don't think there's ever been a RQ computer rpg.

      I may be wrong about that. There's King of Dragon Pass and its sort of sequel, but there are considerable arguments over whether those count as rpgs.

    11. The dwarven religion in Dragon Age: Origins is a good example, I think. It's not a theist religion, and the 'pantheon' is ever-evolving with living members of society getting recognised as paragons.

  2. I swear there's been games beside Braminar on this blog that ended with a similar army vs. army showdown, with opaque rules and no real choices. I'll be darned if I can remember any of their names though.

  3. Have you seen The Butterfly Effect? It's not good, but it's what your story reminded me of.

    1. Apologies Tristan, you must have posted this as I was still reading the post, as I essentially wrote the same, lol

    2. Well, hell. Never saw it. I guess what Satchmo sang is true: Everything's Been Done Before.

    3. One of the maxims of writing is that, for any plot you come up with, either (1) The Simpsons did it first, or (2) Shakespeare did it first, or (3) Ovid did it first, or (4) all of the above. Predictably, TVtropes has an article about that.

    4. The Butterfly Effect is a surprisingly good movie, much better than I thought it would be. To be honest, seeing Ashton Kutcher's name on the DVD cover set my expectations pretty low, but he actually nailed it. Well worth watching.

    5. I agree with TJ that "The Butterfly Effect" is actually a decent movie worth watching. It gets better on subsequent viewings.

      First time I saw it I did not like it. Thenm after sometime I got to see Director's Cut version which I enjoyed much more, especially the ending (won't spoil) that made you go "A-ha!" and certain previously vague comments or events just click in their right places.

      While not a fan of Ashton Kutcher, he absolutely does NOT ruin the movie. Chet, you really should watch the Director's Cut when in a certain mood. It is a bleak, dark Time Travel movie, akin to the short story you wrote. I was surprised to hear that you haven't seen "The Butterfly Effect" before, as similarities in themes and motives are noted by me and others.

      PS Another movie comparison that your story evokes is, of course, "12 Monkeys", which in turn was inspired by "La Jetée"

  4. Is that time travel story not another take on "The Butterfly Effect"?

    1. I immediately thought of slaughter house five because of the whole time traveling PTSD thing. But that’s bot a perfect match.

  5. This feels like an early example of the genre that would eventually get King's Bounty and Heroes of Might & Magic. But this game is likely too obscure to count as inspiration for those two.

    I have to say I dislike sticking random mythological names on unrelated things, particularly if they are randomly from Greek, Norse, and other myths; or if your evil demon is named after the Egyptian sun god. It's just incoherent.

  6. I thought of butterfly effect too

  7. If you enter Ra's throne room and fight him before he attacks, you only need to fight him once. At least that was my experience.

    1. Ah, that's a nice bit of additional information. I assume you have to find the key first to get in there.

    2. Strangely, I didn't. The first time I played, I found the dragon, and then waltzed into his throne room and pummeled him.

    3. Or maybe I did, and I can't remember. I really don't think I found the key first.

  8. I like the concept of this game and it can potentially be a lot of fun. Too bad the resolution is so half-assed. If the battle at the end had better mechanics I could see myself replaying this several times.

  9. Time traveling war vets appeal to you Chet? Maybe read some Vonnegut if you haven't.

    1. Yup, complete with the "PTSD or time travel" ambiguity.

      Also reminds me of the Prince of Persia movie.

    2. Slaughterhouse V immediately came to my mind, too. Time travel happens to Billy Pilgrim, though, he can't control it and he can't change anything.

  10. For some reason I found myself thinking of FTL while reading this...

  11. The concept of using time travel to change your own life reminds me of Heinlein's short story "--All you Zombies--"

  12. If you like Nick Hornby's fiction then I highly recommend Paul Tomkins' book "The Girl on the Pier".

  13. I'd call this a strategy game, rather than an RPG.

  14. I thought of the movie Predestination which ist based on the Heinlein story. It is quite similar to your basic idea. It ist much better than Butterfly Effect, top.

  15. On behalf of the audience, I would like to thank the puny mortal and his insignificant calculating machine for bothering with yet another glorious crpg.

  16. I enjoyed the jazz, Chet. Feel free to link to more in future!

  17. Our army has 30 beavers. The demon lord is doomed.

  18. I played this game on a TRS-80 back in the day, but I've never seen a copy since. Where on Earth did you find it?

  19. AlphabeticalAnonymousOctober 1, 2021 at 1:46 PM

    > I may be puny, but at least I could be bothered to center my title.

    This made me chuckle, since (at least in Firefox) your titles always appear left-justified.

    Otherwise: I can't write up your story idea, but when someone does I would be first in line to read it.

    1. I think I was speaking hypothetically, as in if I were making the same game. My blog titles always appear left-justified.


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