Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Power Stones of Ard: Completely Stuck

I have never been so stuck.
Well, this is a situation that I've never been in before. I have to stop playing a game before I've won it because I can't solve a puzzle. Usually, if I can't figure it out, one of three things happens: 1) I find an online hint; 2) a commenter bails me out; or 3) I cheat. But this game is so obscure that there are no online sources for hints that I can find; commenters who claim to have won the game have not responded to entreaties for help; and even a dump of the game's text doesn't provide the answers I need. Kudos to the creators on the challenge, I guess. Oh, I also can't figure out how to reach the creator. That would be a fourth option.
Still, I suspect that after this entry publishes, something will come along, so stay tuned for an addendum. In the meantime, the best I can do is document the game as I experienced it.
As I discussed in my first entry, Ard takes place on a 5 x 5 map of individual screens or "rooms," as the game's file calls them. There's a little "map" in the lower-right corner that shows your position, and you can tell from it which ways you can go, but you otherwise don't move on the map, nor see your character there. All important interactions happen in the text window. Some of the rooms have buildings that you can go "in," leading to additional options, but the screen doesn't change except to put the word "IN" on top of it.
Most of the rooms offer one or more puzzles that you solve with a combination of inventory and common sense, drawing from the long list of keyboard commands (every key is used), including a S)pecial option that lets you type a command and a T)alk option that has you type your own keywords. At its heart, I think Ard is more of an adventure game than an RPG. Combat occurs only on certain screens and has a minimal number of options. (You do need to fight to get enough riches to buy key items, though.) It appears from the text that most important encounters are handled as puzzles.
My updated map. I haven't been able to reach the middle square. The ones in orange have combats.
The rooms I experienced, from the northeast corner of the map, moving across and then down, are:
1. Empty House (combat screen). If you L)isten here, a ghost says his name is Nephron and to call him. If you T)alk and speak his name, he appears. "I lost my life on the quest you have begun," he says. "You will find my bones behind a door marked 'Enter Here.' My amulet will be there. Use it to destruct demons. But beware! I died for the lack of a way out. I know now a silver coin could have changed my fate."
2. Stable. Examining the room tells you that seven horses' tails are hanging out of the stalls. If you talk, one of the "horses" turns out to be a centaur. If you feed him the keyword MAGIC, he tells you that "from 2 of the 3 empty houses in town, you can get to places you should find very interesting."
Get there how?
3. Main Gate. This is where the game starts. Moving north from here ends the game.
4. Empty House (combat screen). This one has a table and chair covered in dust. If you O)pen a window, the breeze blows away the dust revealing a message that says: "Key opens the dungeon door."
You really have to try everything in this game.
5. Jeweller. He sells several pieces of jewelry, including a fire ruby that you need for the "Fireball" spell. 
6. Temple. You can pay here for healing, holy water (which you need for the "Healing" spell), and a "star crystal" that will automatically resurrect you if you die. It's expensive.
7. Guild Hall. You level up here and drop gold to pay for leveling up.
8. Inn. You can rent a room here for the duration of the game for 150 gold pieces. It's good for resting (which restores strength) and storing excess stuff, though you need to enlist the guard at the barracks to keep it from being stolen.
9. Tavern. You buy food here to restore constitution lost in combat.
10. Barracks. There's a guard pacing around here. If you say most things to him, he'll just say that it's not one of his duties. But if you ask him to GUARD your room, he'll do so.
Although he never leaves the barracks.
11. Elders. A single elder sits at a desk here. If you say DUNGEON, he'll say: "Legend has it that the ruins beyond the maze used to be a powerful wizard's castle. He hid the spirit stone in the dungeon below."
12. Weapons. You can buy a variety of weapons, including short, long, and broad swords, a battle axe, a spear, and a halberd. I've been using a broad sword for most of the game.
13. Magic Shop. Technically, I haven't been here, but I know it's here because of my inspection of the game files. It's in the center square of the map, which can't be reached by walking from any of the other squares. See my discussion of the puzzles below.
14. General Store. Sells some adventuring equipment, including a flask and candle.
15. Hermit's House (combat screen). The hermit who lives here has the riddle whose solution does turn out to be APPLE, but he just tells you to find one and note "when and where." He also tells you about the SEARCH command. If you feed him the DUNGEON keyword, he says he made it to Level 5 and he gives some vague hints about a pit that you have to jump over.
The hermit has a little dungeon ditty.
16. Empty House (combat screen). The third empty house has a book stand. If you P)ush or Y)ank it, it opens a bookcase and reveals a brass key. There's a red book on the book stand, but if you try to read it, the game just says you don't understand it.
17. Armorer. You can buy a variety of armor and shields.
18. Gypsy Camp. Paying 100 gold pieces gives you one of the game's many hints. More on hints below.
The old gypsy woman serves her typical role.
19. Maze (combat screen). Once you enter, you have to flail about to find the exit. I really don't think there's any rhyme or reason. Combats pop up here frequently.
20. Thieves' Guild (combat screen). You usually fight one thief outside who drops a lockpick. Inside is a chest with a hook above it. Trying to open, push, or pull the chest triggers a trap that instantly kills you. Trying to mess with the hook triggers a trap that instantly kills you. Neither the "Knock" spell nor the brass key work on the chest.
If I have a lockpick, why do I need a spell anyway?
21. Woods (combat screen). You can climb a tree in the woods and get a feather.
22. Wizard's House (combat screen). The wizard sells you each of the game's spells for 200 gold. When you buy them, he tells you what physical components they require. Each time you enter, he only offers two spells, but these seem to be time-dependent, so you can just wait and re-enter for new ones.
23. Field (combat screen). You can climb a tree here and get an apple.
24. Ruins (combat screen). The ruins of the wizard's castle contain the dungeon entrance. If you SEARCH the ruins, you find a door with three slots, each one takes a number of gold pieces. The nearby door does not respond to unlocking or "Knock." 
25. Dump. I had to fight a trash fiend the first time I visited, and I honestly can't remember what item I got from it. Trying to recreate it will take a while because the trash fiend is tough and I'll have to grind for a few levels.
There are two ways to get hints in the game. One is to press H, which I'm always accidentally doing when I want to change what I'm holding (the proper command is I for "in hand"). That depletes intelligence. I don't know any way to restore intelligence.
The second is to pay 100 gold to the gypsy. Between the two of them, these are the hints that I got:
  • Remember your teleport
  • Each race has a special
  • Hold component for spell
  • Good STR makes good jumps
  • Know the color code
  • Beware!  Behind one door, a gaseous death awaits
  • A star, revealed a star, reveals a star
  • Beware the tor beast! No blade will pierce it   
  • Scales of the guardian rend with starlight
  • The prince of darkness has the crystal key you need
  • Chests need keys to open
  • Doors unlock with spell
  • Sleep in safe places
  • Spell ends with room change
  • You can backout of fights
  • Specials need an S
The primary puzzle that I'm facing is the door with the three slots at the entrance to the dungeon. Some combination of gold pieces must be fed into these three slots, and I'm at a loss how to figure out how many. None of the hints that I've received nor any of the encounters in town have referenced it. Worse, I can't even find any reference to it when I scan the files for text. [Ed. Thanks to LanHawk for helping me accomplish this by extracting the text from the data files, something I couldn't figure out how to do.] That made me think there must be some clue in the manual, but I can't find anything there, either. Nor do any of the graphics suggest anything. I even tried brute-forcing all potential combinations of numbers up to 3, which required 64 guesses. 

As I said above, despite the clue that "doors unlock with spell," holding the lockpick and casting "Knock" does nothing.
Other puzzles include:
  • How can I read the text of the red book? I've tried casting "Augment" to no avail. No one responds to RED BOOK or BOOK as keywords.
  • How can I open the chest in the thieves' guild? Again, neither the brass key (cf. the clue that chests need keys) nor "Knock" seem to work.
  • What's with the clue that "each race has a special"? A special command? If so, what is it? Typing HUMAN doesn't do anything.
  • How do I access the magic shop? I thought "Detect" cast in one of the adjacent squares might do it, but that requires a lodestone, which I haven't found. I thought maybe you have to teleport there, perhaps from one of the empty houses (see the centaur's clue), but "Teleport" requires blink dust, which I haven't been able to find.
I'm particularly keen to solve the door puzzle since the text has references to dungeon rooms and levels, and yet there are only 25 "Room" screens on the disk. This suggests that the dungeon uses a completely different interface. I'd like to at least experience that before I try to rate the game.
I'll leave this up for a week or so to see if anyone has any ideas, and if not I'll have to close it and rate it as I experienced it. It would be too bad to have to abandon the game. It's one of the earliest graphical adventure/RPG hybrids, predating even Hero's Quest. I'd love to be the first to fully document it.
Time so far: 7 hours


  1. Someone run strings on the executable and data files and post what you find that's human-readable.

  2. Did you ask anyone about "RUINS" or "CHEST" keywords?

    1. Yes, I think I've fed every noun I've encountered in the game to every NPC.

  3. "Key opens the dungeon door."

    Maybe the letters of the word "key" denote how many coins need to be put in? So, 11, 3 and 25?

    Just a wild guess.

    1. All glory to the anonymous commenter! That was indeed the solution. The funny thing is, I had tried that tactic with ARD but didn't think to use it for KEY.

      Next time someone asks why I don't just ban anonymous commenting--This. Right here.

      Between this and some things that LanHawk uncovered, I think I'm off to the races. Thanks, everyone.

    2. Wow, this is the worst solution to an in-game riddle since "Ifnkovhgroghprm".

    3. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh set of eyes. Not sure how long it would have taken me to get this one. Longer than I care to guess.

    4. What a surprising turn of events... looking forward how this plays out.

    5. Anon delivers even when you have forgotten something.

    6. I was about to suggest the same thing when I found here it was already solved. "Key opens the dungeon door" was stated earlier in the post. Why I thought of it: I just ran across a similar riddle that I TOTALLY could not solve in a 1994 game (which I won't spoil but is well known) and the Internet helped me out on that.

  4. I mean 11, 5 and 25.

  5. Just complete random guessing without game knowledge:

    The apple is probably somehow involved in accessing the middle square. You were able to find one as an inventory item, so it should be usable somewhere. And it ties into that hermit's riddle, which seems to indicate the core (center).

    Maybe having one in inventory or in hand, then interacting with the various NPCs will trigger something new. Giving apple as a conversation keyword?

    I would also wonder about secondary uses of holding items in hand. It sounds like a weapon in hand is needed for combat, and reagents for spells, and key in hand for using them. If you can put any inventory item into hand, then that would be an easy way for the game to have another dimension of interactions with the environment and NPCs.

    1. Hmm, he says to find the apple and note "when and where". The "where" is apparently up the tree in the field.
      What is the "when"? I don't see any turn counter or time indicator on the screen.

    2. The apple does turn out to be quite the item. But not as suggested above. I will leave that for Chet to cover later.

  6. Also just guessing:

    - Red Book: I assume you already tried to (o)pen and/or e(x)amine it before reading?

    - Chest in the Thieves' Guild: Guess you tried e(x)amine (chest or hook) or (u)nlock chest as well?

    - "Each race has a special": Given the description of (S)pecial as a feature in the manual and also the last hint, I think this means indeed each race has a special command. So typing "Human" for humans did not reveal it, should have the format verb+noun or verb+adjective+noun as per the manual.
    However, as to how to know which is each race's special command, no idea. Maybe that will still be disclosed through a hint or NPC dialogue.

    1. PS re book: Hopefully, your (h)ints haven't lowered your in-game intellect so much you can't understand the book because of it - which could be a walking dead scenario.

    2. "Race" could also mean a racing contest, maybe.

    3. Chet has gotten by the chest problem. I think the solution to that one was even worse than the "key" and gold coins one.

    4. Good to hear that and looking forward to read about it! Just two additional thoughts on the other two and then I'll wait for Chet's update:

      The manual says with regard to (t)alk: "In almost all cases, you should limit what you say to one or two words." Depending on how the text parser works, maybe asking an NPC for "translate (red) book" or "human special" yields something?

    5. Let me guess, you use the keys on your keyboard to type "chest"?

    6. For those who would like to ponder the puzzle in the Thieves' Guild, here is the information it gives you:

      "The other thieves must be out pilfering.
      You see a small chest in the corner. A wooden peg protrudes from the wall above it
      What do you want to do?

      That is it. There are no other hints that I can find. Chet was attempting the proper method(s) of solving it. It is the specific solution requirement that is baffling to me.

    7. I was wondering if the solution you gave me might just be a synonym. Like maybe there are other ways to do it without using such an obscure word. Anyway, I'll talk more about that next time.

  7. Sorry if I missed something, but does the game's interface allow you to give the hermit an apple, or use it in front of him?

    1. There's no GIVE option nor any USE option. You can hold it in your hand in front of him and eat it in front of him, but he doesn't react either way.

  8. Can you someone say ‚tree‘ to the hermit? And then the time, whatever that might be…

  9. Re: special commands or abilities

    Does anything happen if you type SPECIAL?

  10. This game reminds me of a couple puzzle adventures they printed in GAMES magazine back in the 80s. They were laid out in a grid and each room had a riddle, item or NPC you'd "interact" with. One room had two gatemen, one demanded identification. Another room had a mirror that rearranged things into their anagrams. You were expected to take one gateman to the mirror, turn him into a NAMETAG, take him back to the gate and the guard would let you through now that you had an ID.
    They were some infuriating puzzles but I loved them for their creativity.

  11. If Specials need an S, do you need to type "Humans" to get the human special to work?

    1. Neither HUMAN nor HUMANS works there. LanHawk dumped a list of all the S)pecial keywords the game accepts, and I don't see anything specific to race on it, so I'm not sure what the hint is talking about.

  12. Kind of going off the rails here but I've got to say I'm really digging the Tandy CoCo 3 font as seen in the screenshots. It's somehow very comfy and friendly.

    1. I agree with you. It's a unique and identifiable font, and something does feel homey about it.


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