Monday, August 29, 2022

Game 467: Dungeons and Dragons (1980)

There is no title screen. You have to type YES on this screen, not just "Y."
Dungeons and Dragons
United States
Aurora Software Associates (developer and publisher)
Released 1980 for Ohio Scientific Computers
Titled The Wizard's City in 1981 catalogs but not in-game 
Date Started: 18 August 2022
Date Ended: 18 August 2022
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Hard (4.0/5) to stay alive, but there's no goal
Final Rating: 6
Ranking at Time of Posting: 6/483 (1%)
Dungeons and Dragons is a rare game for a rare platform, uncovered only because my colleague, El Explorador de RPG, has been going through old catalogs. (I owe my ability to play this game to his instructions and the work of a dedicated Ohio Scientific Instruments fan named Mark, who has preserved software and documentation for the platform.) It isn't much of a game, but anything from the RPG dark ages (1975-1981) is worthy of at least some attention. Its limited content won't occupy us for long.
I have chosen the title Dungeons because it seems to be the original, marketed as such by Aurora Software in 1980 and early 1981 catalogs and magazines. At some point in 1981, Aurora changed its address from Springville, Utah to Cleveland, Ohio, and changed the name of this game in catalogs to The Wizard's City. There was no change in the actual game file, which displays no title screen. The only version of the game I was able to find was on a disk crammed with other Aurora Software titles. Dungeons is listed in the disk's menu as DUNOSI (the "OSI" part standing for Ohio Scientific Instruments), although I can't say for sure that this was the original file name as opposed to what was chosen by whoever prepared the compilation disk. Dunosi also means "dunes" in Italian, but I doubt that's what they were going for. [Ed., as el Explorador points out himself in the comments, I missed an even earlier ad in which the game was called Dungeons and Dragons. That means they re-named it twice. Title changed accordingly!]
An early-1981 ad selling the game as Dungeons.
The game is mostly text with some limited graphics. You begin by rolling a character, whose attributes are strength, intelligence, dexterity, and constitution, rolled at random on a scale of 1 to 18. You choose your profession from fighter, dwarf, halfling, elf, and magic-user classes, with attributes modified in expected ways (e.g., fighters get more strength, elves more intelligence). Your hit points are calculated based partly on your constitution, but see below. Your starting gold depends on how good or bad your attributes are; lower attributes mean more gold.
Character creation.
The game then starts in a city represented by a row of buildings. Am I right that these are just characters in a symbol typeset? I'm sure I've seen those little "house" characters before somewhere. Anyway, the only thing you can do in the city is to rest safely and purchase "more armor." You probably don't have enough gold to buy any armor when you first start the game, but you later get it by killing monsters. Every time you buy a piece of armor, it increases your armor class by 1. I amused myself thinking of an armorer welding a new plate to some unwieldy patchwork every time the adventurer stops by with a few hundred gold pieces.
This city clearly has Texas-style zoning regulations.
The number keys from 1 to 5 control all actions in the game. To get out of the city, you either hit "1" to move down to the dungeon or "2" or "3" to move (respectively) west or east into the forest. Once in either location, "2" and "3" move you west and east along either the forest or the dungeon corridor. The game tells you how far you've moved from your origin point. If you want to go back to town from the forest, you just have to go as many moves in the opposite direction as you did when you left. To return from the dungeon, you have to return to a central passage the same way, then hit "4". Once you're in the dungeon passage, hitting "1" moves you to the next lowest level. No matter where you are, "5" rests, but it only heals you if you're in town. 
The only action occurs when you meet an enemy in the dungeon or the forest. The game shows you his name, hit points, number of attacks, armor class, dexterity, and strength. Enemies have better statistics the lower you go and the farther you travel. By name, they include bandits, zombies, giant toads, trolls, werewolves, large spiders, and "wrights," which I guess is maybe a combination of a wraith and a wight.
A fight with a berserker in the dungeon.
In combat, you have three "options": flee, attack, and cast a spell. Flee hardly ever works, and the other two aren't really "options" except for the elf, since mages can only cast spells and everyone else can only attack. I don't know how the elf decides what to do. Spells don't deplete a mana pool or spell slots or anything, and you can't specify anything about the spell you cast. Combat is thus mostly random. If you win, you get experience and gold. Once you have enough experience, you can rest in town to increase your level and maximum hit points. 
It's pretty hard to survive to Level 2. If you roll less than 8 hit points, you might as well not even bother. Even with high attributes, three bad combat rounds in which you miss and the enemy hits are enough to kill most starting characters. You often get multiple enemies in a row, preventing you from reaching the passage to return to the surface. Occasionally, trap doors dump you down a dungeon level, or from the forest to the dungeon.
A fight with a snake in the forest.
I'm not even sure the attributes work the way they're supposed to. I started to get suspicious of some of my results--characters with 18 strength missing four attacks in a row and so forth--that I started collecting data. I rolled character after character, making each one a fighter, and immediately going to the forest east of the city once the game started. I repeatedly waited for enemies, fought each round, and returned to the city to heal if I lost even one hit point. If I had enough money, I bought armor, then returned to the forest. Some weird statistics emerged:

  • It took me 17 characters before I survived to Level 2.
  • The correlation between constitution and hit points was a strong 0.75, but there were some major outliers.
  • A couple of sets of stats showed up more than once in only 17 rolls. Trials #1, #4, and #11 produced the same numbers, as did #12 and #17.
  • My most successful characters had some of the lowest strength scores.
Tracking character statistics and success. "Combats" is how many combats he survived.
As the 17th character increased in levels, it became clear that monsters were increasing in difficulty with him. You can't just stay near the town and farm easy experience points. I suspect what's happening is that the game takes into consideration some totality of your attributes and level in setting enemy difficulty, so that it really doesn't matter whether you're weak or strong, as you're always pitted against a comparable enemy. Perhaps someone with more programming acumen can hypothesize what is happening with those "random" numbers or determine through code inspection how enemy difficulty is determined.
My most successful character.
I was going to do the same for spellcasters, who seem to have a slightly easier time, but I got a bit bored. There really isn't much to the game, and there's no winning condition. The best you can do is keep trying to level up and record your highest scores on a notepad or something. There's no way to save the game except to manually record your statistics, then say "No" when the game asks if you want to roll a new character. At that point, you can enter whatever statistics you want.
As far as I can tell, this is the only RPG for the short-lived (1977-1981) Ohio Scientific Instruments platform, and the only RPG from Aurora Software Associates, which also sold disk utilities and business software. Their games catalog includes a lot of OSI adaptations of common mainframe games of the era, including Trek, an adaptation of the grid-based Star Trek, and an adaptation of (Colossal Cave) Adventure. Since they clearly had access to these mainframes, I'm inclined to think that Dungeons was inspired by one of Daniel Lawrence's Dungeons and Dragons versions (see this entry for a full history), although Dungeons is stripped of so many features that it's barely recognizable. Alas, the author of Dungeons seems to have been lost to history.


  1. There should be a roguelite RPG for Dora the Exploradorrrra. You get a map and a backpack of junk, and you have to reach the goal, which would be randomized, of course. There was no combat in the show, but there were plenty of adversaries (Swiper, Troll) that could become combats. You have a party of Dora and Boots, and maybe hirelings of Benny, Isa, Tico...

  2. "I'm inclined to think that Dungeons was inspired by one of Daniel Lawrence's Dungeons and Dragons versions"

    In fact the game was initially advertised as Dungeons and Dragons.

    1. Nice pick up! 15.95$ was a steep price for such a limited game... although it fits the times. Nice that they offered an 8" floppy option.

    2. Whoops! I thought I'd seen the earliest ad. Now I have to change everything

    3. Sorry for the trouble, but you don't need to change anything: in the source code of the game, it is named Dungeons (in a REM statement).

    4. To me, the other surprising find on the linked page is that, according to the ad above this one, an adaptation of "one of the world's most popular operating systems" to the TRS-80 Model II was developed and sold by a company named "Pickles & Trout".

      Their logo seems to reflect both of these edible elements. It seems it was in fact named after its two founders:

    5. In the early days, they got *really* creative naming their games, is what I'm getting out of this ;)

    6. @arthurdawg, and this would be about $60 in todays dollars. Can you imagine paying that much for this gem!

  3. Could this be the first RPG with level scaling?

    1. "Perhaps someone with more programming acumen..."

      Well, that's not me, but I wanted to suggest the same, this could be the first instance of level scaling - which is, as we all know, bad game design, you should feel more powerful by leveling up, curb-stomping low-level enemies while getting presented other stronger monster types.

    2. It's only bad design if it is done, well, badly. If the scaling is linear then yes it's pretty bad. But if each ennemy has a specific curve that becomes flat past a certain level, and stats scalling in a custom way too, etc... then it works perfectly well.

    3. The game uses the dungeon level for monsters HP, but if you are in the forest, it uses character level.

      If in dungeon level 8+ or with character level 8+ in the forest, the mosters can have 2 attacks.

      The monsters hit more often with more dungeon level or character level in the forest.

      The monsters have more AC with more dungeon level or character level in the forest.

      Monsters dexterity is random, and monsters strength is less with more dungeon level or character level in the forest, but is more again with character level (even in dungeons).

    4. I forgot to mention all of this is ramdomized, so you can encounter a relatively weak monster, at least in one or more of its stats, even with a high level.

  4. >> Dunosi also means "dunes" in Italian

    Sorry, but this is wrong. According to and, "dunosi" (or "dunoso") does not exist in Italian. According to, it means "dun coloured", but then, what does "dun" mean ?

    I just asked an Italian teacher I happen to know. She confirms it is not an Italian word.

    1. I'm not interested in debating such a parenthetical point, particularly since I'm not a native speaker, but if you simply Google "dunosi," you get a bunch of dictionary entries plus a bunch of pages in Italian describing what are clearly dunes. Maybe it's an adjectival form?

    2. There are many closely related languages in Italy, it might be from one of them. Google translate says it's Corsican for dunes, but I'm not sure how much that can be trusted.

    3. The reference authority for the Italian language is the “Accademia della Crusca”, which says on the subject that the word exists, it is an adjective more or less corresponding to the English “dunal”.

      Extremely rare word, but any Italian native speaker can understand it since it is just a name made into an adjective by adding an -oso suffix, just like in English one would add “-ous”.

      The entry in Wiktionary is instead nonsense created by a bot.

    4. As a native speaker, I can tell you that "dunosi" could be used as a plural male adjective to mean objects "shaped as dunes" or "rich with dunes". It is also reported in the Treccani dictionary, which is a good reference for the Italian language.

    5. It's all Greek to me! (Well, maybe a little Italian).

    6. Glad we got to the bottom of this. It was such a cornerstone argument in Chet’s entry.

    7. So it means “dunish.”

    8. "dunosi" isn't that uncommon; it's used to describe terrain with dunes, which seems to have been a popular topic in Italian in the '30s and '40s:

      One might compare it to the technical English word "duned":

      Here's an interesting article discussing the difference between "dunoso", "dunare" and "dunale":

    9. My favorite part about this thread is that Abacos clearly isn't a native Italian speaker, either, but he just had to PROVE CHET WRONG so bad that in the 5 hours after this posting was published, he actually consulted with an Italian teacher.

    10. As a native Italian speaker, I haven't heard or read the word "dunosi" used in my 40+ years.

      But yeah, in very specific contexts it can mean what X says above, an adjective that describes the feature of terrains to be similar to desert dunes (which is just "dune", plural), if the noun used for terrains is masculine and plural (Italian is complicated) as in "terreni dunosi".

      As Chet says, it is very doubtful the original author meant to reference that :)

    11. @Chester Bolingbroke. You are perfectly reasonable. It is, indeed, such a parenthetical topic that I would have left it at that.

      @BronzeBob. You seriously misinterpreted my intentions. Long story short, I should have written ERRATA CORRIGE on top of my comment. I did not consult a native Italian on purpose, I just happened to talk to... Enough, too long justification for such an unimportant thing.

    12. To reflect this essential thread, I suggest Chet slightly changes the title of this post once more, to "Dunes and Dragons".

      @First Anon: I see what you did there. But haven't you forgotten something?

    13. Yet another cool word fact ends in a thread larger than any about the actual game.

    14. @Abacos: "Dun" means brown, like the color of dunes.

      @Busca: Audible laughter was produced for both comments.

    15. Regarding DUNOSI as the filename, did OSI have an 8 character maximum filename requirement like DOS? If so, I can't imagine them wanting to use DUNGOSI or DUNGEOSI, or DUNG&OSI, you get the idea. Even if it's not like DOS, I'm still pretty sure it has nothing to do with an unlikely but potentially Italian word. I might be more convinced if there was a 6 character max, but not by much.

    16. "Glad we got to the bottom of this. It was such a cornerstone argument in Chet’s entry."


  5. It isn't much of a game, but anything from the RPG dark ages (1975-1981) is worthy of at least some attention.

    Damn straight it is. These forgotten cassette games are the best games.

  6. $16 In 1980 is about what a new AAA title costs today. Care to play it for another 38 hrs, Chet?

  7. "I'm not even sure the attributes work the way they're supposed to."

    Your were right. Strength and intelligence only affect the experience gained according to your character class, not the combat. Costitution only affects initial hit points, and dexterity only determines who attack first in a combat.

    Damage from monsters is affected by dungeon level or character level if in forest.

    Damage and chances to hit of the character are affected by his level.

    Halflings have a bonus to hit of +2.

    Spell attacks are against monster strenght instead of AC (monsters AC is really 10+AC in the screen), but they not gain the character level bonus to hit (only for damage).

    I have to change my own site now...

    1. Well, after inspecting the source code I discovered some other things:

      The halfling attack bonus is only for the first combat round (if you attack first) and only works in the forest.

      There is no difference between fighter and dwarf.

      The monsters ATL (attack level?) is better the lowest (it goes lower with dungeons levels or character level in forest) and affects its chances to hit.

      The monster ST is not strenght (maybe Spell Treshold?), is better the lowest (it goes lower with dungeons levels or character level in forest), and affects its chances to avoid an spell attack. It goes higher with character level, but it's to match the same bonus from character level to normal attacks vs AC.

      The horizontal distance to the city only affects the gold and experience earned after killing monsters.

      The wizard needs 2.500 xp per level. The other classes need only 2.000 xp, but the elf xp gained is halved everytime.

      Wizard and elf gain more (or less) xp according to their Intelligence. The other classes gain more (or less) xp according to their Strenght.

      The monsters gain a bonus to their attack if you flee.

      You can fall down more than one dungeon level through the trap doors.

      I usually inspect the source code in recent games covered in my site just for this things. Maybe some day I will backtrack the games that were not inspected...

    2. The rules look like a stripped-down version of Basic D&D, especially the 'non-human races as classes' and the specific experience thresholds.

    3. Given it’s very clearly based on D&D, “ST” is “saving throw”, where they must (in early D&D, not sure about this game) roll that number or higher on a 20-sided die to suffer less negative effects.

    4. Yes, it's Saving Throw! It works exactly like you described, but that name eluded me.

      The random rolls for attacks and the spell saving throws are 20-sided.

      I think the original name of the game, Dungeons and Dragons, was too literal. Even the initial change to Dungeons was not sufficient. I suspect the change to The Wizard's City was to avoid unwanted attention from TSR...

    5. And thinking about monsters ATL (better the lowest and affecting chances to hit), maybe it's some type of THAC0?

    6. It pretty much is THAC0 but I don’t think there’s anything in official D&D of the time which acronyms to ATL, making me think the abbreviation and what it stands for was invented by someone else.

    7. I don't think D&D used the term 'THAC0' until the mid-1980s. Prior to that they used 'attack matrices,' which followed the same mathematical principle but required you to cross-reference half a dozen charts, so it took about 20 minutes to figure out if you'd hit anything. People complain about THAC0 now, but they forget how much simpler it was than what it replaced.

    8. Never mind. Just checked and found it was introduced in 1979, though it was streamlined in the mid-80s.

    9. In any case, it is misapplied in this game, since it applies twice the monster's level bonus on its attacks (once when calculating the ATL and once on the roll)... it's normal that the game is so difficult (the character only gets his level bonus once per attack roll).

      If it weren't for that bug or feature, the monster's ATL would be exactly THAC0, the necessary 20-sided die result to hit a character with 0 AC.

  8. "Am I right that these are just characters in a symbol typeset? I'm sure I've seen those little "house" characters before somewhere."

    Yes, the OSI had some characters for games in their standard font like the houses or the guy with the sword(?).
    Because of very limited screen memory there were no hi-res graphics possible with the earlier machines. At least in the standard configuration without expansion boards and expansion boards of course limit the potential audience of your game.

    Characters also couldn't be redefined like on other, more complex machines like the Ataris or Commodores.

    This links to a screen that shows all possible characters:

    Note that some symbols like the u-boat require two characters next to each other.

    1. It's great to know that even in the late 70s people had the foresight to create a character most certainly designed to represent breasts.

    2. There's also an obvious phallus there. Other curious choices include all those battle tanks and artillery pieces. I don't know if that says something about the character designer or not.

  9. It immediately struck me that the armor system presaged the one in The Mandalorian. In that show, each time he completes a mission - usually involving a Beskar (metal) reward that he gives to the armor - he gets a new piece of Beskar armor.

    1. First instance of "armor" should be "armorer"

    2. Kind of remember Daggerfall doing that as well? With the knight orders. But I doubt it was inspired by an old OSI game.

  10. Gosh, at this point, what obscure game platform is next? TI-83+ graphing calculators?

    I guess I'm only half joking, because I've played some RPGs released on graphing calculators, all of them terrible (except for a mind-blowingly competent port of Ultima V for the TI-89).

    1. Here is an RPG for the HP-41 programmable calculator (I don't know the release date, but I think the author is too young to be from the 80's, so I didn't even try to play it):

    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousAugust 31, 2022 at 10:00 AM

      There are also a few offerings for the HP-48 (still my calculator of choice) here - - although none of them seem to date from earlier than the late 1990s.

    3. You know, the "C" in "The CRPG Addict" could also stand for "calculator"...

  11. As an aside, I looked at your upcoming game list, and noticed that Mechanical Anarchy is on deck.

    As I am the internet person responsible for rescuing Mechanical Anarchy from an obscure Mac software disk and posting it on the Macintosh Garden for everyone's (dis)pleasure, I want to, in advance, apologize for the misery it will inflict upon you! It was, for a very short time, a game that fascinated me at the age of eight. I was obsessed at the time with playing as many random and weird shareware games I could get my hands on regardless of quality, even games apparently quickly tossed together using the SuperCard software authoring suite, a commercial variant of Apple's HyperCard (something I later discovered perusing through the game's resources).

    Anyway, I had mentioned it before in an earlier comment: I had lost my only copy of the game, which was only available on a MacAddict shareware game sampler CD, and it never made it to the internet proper. In the intervening years, the game had grown to an almost mythical level in my head. I remembered features, as an older person, that never existed in the game; I remembered depth that was never there originally. I scoured the internet for my childhood game, year after year, long after I had left Macs for PCs, and only finally found it a couple years ago after stripping random software CDs archived on of their contents.

    Disappointingly, the game is quite shallow, and not at all worth anything beyond a brief (the battle system is basic nonsense) but it is the culmination of a lifelong obsession to find a long lost fragment of my childhood, so there's some worth in the background tale, if not the game itself which boils down to completing a series of tasks before you gain too many experience levels and the enemies (who scale with you) become far too strong for you to continue.

    Anyway, i hope my context gives you a little more than the game itself delivers. Thanks for everything you do, Chet, your blog is a wonderful trip through nostalgia.

    1. Great story, and as a fellow game archaeologist I absolutely feel you. Just this year I unearthed an old shareware game I thought lost, and even though it's not that great, it feels amazing to finally find it.

    2. Thanks for understanding! And, honestly, the game had a sort of mysterious vibe, with a neat post-apocalyptic framing story. There's something there, especially for the childhood version of me, but it is just very much your average Mac shareware coffee break game masquerading as something deeper. It's a bit of a simplistic slog, but it's, to use a somewhat inapplicable descriptor, kind of adorable for what it is. It just screams "classic Mac shareware" warts and all.

    3. If you have a Mac and you like recovering lost games, I have found one that is preserved in a format that needs to be converted with a Mac to be playable. The author of the game is Donald Brown (Eamon author) and the game is titled "Role-Playing Starwars" (presumably a crpg).

      Donal Brown's Eamon games were distributed through the Denver Apple Pi club (an Apple II users gruop). He mentions this in the Recreational Computing article where the game was publicited for the first time. Well, this club had a software library, and they traded disks with Washington Apple Pi club. The Washington Apple Pi journal was the newsletter of this last users group, and in their August 1980 issue, they talk about Eamon and his author, "Donald Brown of Role-Playing Starwars fame". They had both games in their library, from the Denver Apple Pi club. In an earlier issue the "lost" game is listed as part of Volume 6 of his library (a games volume). And this disk is preserved here:

      The problem is that it is in a2r format, a format that can't be used with an emulator before converting it first to woz format with Applesauce app, which only runs on MacOS... and I don't have a Mac (and my PC is too old for that type of emulation). I don't know how it works, but it is possible the simple conversion is not sufficient (I'm no expert in Applesauce).

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. Thank you very much! I've downloaded it.

      The game turned out to be a stand alone version of his Eamon adventure Death Star, predating the adventure I guess, and maybe Eamon itself.

    6. I've finished the game and it has some differences with Eamon adventure (a time limit, a one level but bigger map, a rope to cross a chasm...), but it's basically the same game (even with followers you can give orders and items).

      It's not an rpg, just a text adventure with combats instead of puzzles. You don't improve any attributes, and you get a score at the end.

      I think this game could be the seed of Eamon, as it has all the elements but the attributes improvement and treasure hunting.

    7. I wonder if the identical character stats are due to a poorly initialized random number generator

    8. The game defines his own random function using a random seed generated with BASIC RND function, but sometimes, depending on how are generated the random numbers by the BASIC RND function (which memory location it uses, etc.), the emulators give not so random results.

    9. Thanks for the background, Teegan. It does make the game sound a bit more interesting. Equally interesting is this material on Donald Brown's earlier game, which I'll append to my Eamon entry.

    10. I'm not familiar with the Ohio Scientific computers, but the Commodore 64 VIC chip's random waveform generator was sometimes used as hardware random number generator. You could imagine that some emulators might not appreciate that a simple register read may not be so simple after all... I wonder if Ohio Scientific programmers might have used a similar trick that might be underappreciated in the emulator?

  12. The dreaded wrights. They're ghosts in a flying machine.


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