Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Dungeon Hack: Won One!

That drawbridge has no chains. How were they ever going to get it up again?
In my second entry on Dungeon Hack, I was relatively positive about the game. It was challenging but fast, and the character I chose (a cleric/mage) had a variety of powers. I was enjoying swapping among them and blasting my way through the hallways. This never entirely went away, though there were times that it ebbed a bit. The game ended when I was ready for it to end, and I'm glad I didn't do something crazy like set the dungeon to 20 levels.
I ended the last entry having explored most of Level 6, fighting my way through mummies and trolls. The "boss" creature on the level was a bizarre (even by D&D standards) creature called a "slithermorph." It crawls around the dungeon floor, eating carrion, looking like a black pudding. But then suddenly it rears up into the form of a four-armed lizard holding a dagger. 
Why not four daggers?
Slithermorphs then joined banshees as the Level 7 foes. Neither of these creatures have special attacks in this game, but they hit relatively hard. As I carved my way through them, I reached Level 11 as a mage and acquired two artifact items: The Chainmail of High Priest Myrh +3, and the Mace of High Priest Myrh +3. I also found Bracers of Protection +2. These artifacts offered such a boost to my armor class that I stopped wearing the Cloak of Protection and simply took off my armor when I wanted to cast a mage spell.
Having a bunch of banshees around kind of ruins the point of banshees.
Alas, that desire happened less and less as the game went on. There are two major problems with mage spells in the game. First, you have to learn them from scrolls, which appear randomly. I never found a scroll with "Fireball," "Haste," "Lightning Bolt," or many of the other spells I would have liked. I never found any Level 6 spells at all, meaning the two slots I eventually acquired in that level were completely wasted.
Second, the spells are horrendously underpowered. I could kill a troll with three or four hits from my mace. I could easily exhaust half of my offensive mage spells on that same troll. The best offensive spell I got was "Snilloc's Major Missile" at Level 5, and it took three of these plus a regular "Magic Missile" to kill most enemies. Worse, the cooldown period between spell castings is so high that you have to backpedal halfway across the dungeon over the course of casting those three or four spells.
Level 7's boss was an umber hulk.
I stopped using "Spiritual Hammer" as my primary weapon at some point. It's a great spell, but underpowered compared to my Mace +3. Thus, I had to start getting into the face of more enemies. I also found a Maul of the Titans +2 on the level, but the game insisted I wasn't strong enough to wield it despite a strength of 19.

I never found any information to explain who Myrh was. It would be nice if the scrolls had covered the particular hero whose items you find. Instead, I got a few scrolls talking about Midnight and a bunch of others offering hints for specific creatures.
That would have been helpful a level ago.
I reported last time about the oddities related to the timing of an enemy's movements and attacks. I tried to analyze the timing for this entry because it really started to bother me. Enemies are capable of things that seem like they should be impossible and I think were impossible in Eye of the Beholder despite the games sharing the same engine. These impossible actions include:
  • Turning, moving a space, and attacking in one very quick motion.
  • When you come upon an enemy from behind, doing an about-face and attacking you before you have time to react.
  • Scoring a hit on you even if you back away immediately after stepping up next to a creature.
Notice how this undead beast turns, moves, and attacks in one motion. The swipe of his arm isn't necessary. If the attack animation begins (e.g., the arm raised), it always finishes, even if I dart away before it completes.
Based on my investigations, this is what I think is true:
  • The game uses cycles of action and inaction for enemies, each lasting a couple of seconds. If the enemy is in its "action" cycle when you happen to wander into an adjacent square, the enemy will inevitably get to attack you, even if you immediately step away or even if the enemy has to turn to make the attack. 
  • The player's movement is tracked on a different timer than the enemy's. Thus, you get ridiculous situations like stepping away from an attacking enemy and not having the attack "connect" and do damage until you're several squares away.
  • If you step up next to an enemy while it's in its "dormant" phase, you can attack with impunity.
Especially on Levels 8-10, where enemies could swat away all my hit points with a single attack, I learned to lead them to long corridors, watch them step forward, then dart in, attack, and pull back. This ensured that I only ever got up to them during their "inaction" phase. I tried for a while luring them to large rooms, where I could run around and attack from behind, but that didn't work because of the problems listed above.
I've seen more attractive medusas.
Level 8's creatures were medusas and shambling mounds. I freaked when I saw my first medusa and used a Scroll of Protection from Petrification that I'd been holding. It only lasted about half the level, but I never got stoned by any of the medusas despite engaging them in melee combat repeatedly. Maybe I just have good saving throws. They did poison me a few times, however, requiring me to sacrifice some of my L4 spell slots for "Neutralize Poison." The first time, I had to find one of those magic coin-taking machines, which heal all your hit points for a silver coin and all your conditions for a gold coin.
My kingdom for a Wand of Defoliation.
Shambling mounds were the toughest enemies so far, capable of killing me instantly. I made Cleric 11 at some point and got Level 6 spells, including "Heal." I also hit Mage 12. I have no idea what the boss level was on Level 8--some kind of dude with six spider or scorpion legs. This game's version of a drider, maybe?
Or a scorpi-taur?
Level 9's enemies were hags and spirit nagas, which look like something out of Beetlejuice. No special attacks on either of them. It's funny how level drain and other special attacks were weighted towards the first half of the dungeon. I found the High Priest Myrh's holy symbol, but I'm not sure if that does anything that my holy symbol doesn't; spell power is based on the character attributes, right? 
The boss was a Feyr, a tentacled blob with three mouths and a row of five eyes. It also was capable of phasing in and out of visibility. I reloaded after my first attempt and cast "See Invisibility," but he still killed me about four more times. I had to do a lot of hit and run work on him. When he died, I hit Level 13 in both classes.
I slowed this one down. Note how when I come up on the feyr, he instantly turns around and attacks, even though I dart away before any attack animation plays. I don't actually take the damage and die until I'm already away from him.
Then it was time for the final level. Routine enemies were undead beasts and ettins--again, no special attacks, but they were very fast and had the ability to kill me with one hit despite my -9 armor class. I rounded out my equipment kit with Myrh's Helm +3. The level featured a lot of long corridors, fortunately, and I was able to get most of the enemies from a distance.
You already saw the undead beast; here's the ettin.
The final boss was--I don't know. Tell me if you can. It's nothing that's in the manual. An owlbear, maybe? It has some things going on graphically that I don't understand. 
Any thoughts?
I didn't stand a chance against him. He was far too fast. If I bungled a strafe or move backwards, he'd kill me instantly. I don't think he missed even once despite my low AC. After he wandered down a side hallway briefly, I ran past him, thinking I could find the sorceress's orb without killing him, but there was nothing on the other side but empty corridors. Apparently, the boss always has it. 
Fortunately, I had saved a few emergency items. One was a Wand of Paralyzation. That did the trick. It took a couple of uses (it lasts a variable amount of time), but they were long enough that I could whack away his hit points while he was stunned. 
The paralyzed whatever sits still while I hit him.
He dropped two scrolls and a potion when he died, but I never got a chance to look at them. The game said: "I've bested the final monster! And the orb--I see it right there!"
I do not, in fact, see it right there.
The endgame cinematic took over, showing the character exiting the dungeon with a literal wheelbarrow full of treasure and wheeling it up to the sorceress. She picks it over for a few minutes and pulls out the orb. "My thanks, adventurer," she says, "Now come, it is time for us to leave." The adventurer doesn't leave, though; he just spends the closing credits kneeling by the wheelbarrow inspecting one shiny bauble after another. 
This is going to take a while if you insist on doing one at a time.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • Except for "Improved Identify," I don't think I cast a single mage spell on the last three levels.
  • Another fun alternative to a lock and key:
Is this a flat-screen television?
  • For all the manual's promise that "once you identify one type of potion (or wand), you'll automatically know what the others of its type do," I don't think I found more than one of anything.
  • On a couple levels, I got a message that I felt like there were spiders crawling all over my body; a few squares later, I got a message saying it went away. Does anyone know what that was about?
Worry more about the spirit naga.
  • The last four levels all added teleportation cubes to the navigation mix. You enter, and they deposit you elsewhere on the level. 
A teleporter cube. I thought it was a gelatinous cube at first.
  • I lost sound at some point on Level 9. The game rendered every effect as a high-pitched squeal. Quitting and reloading didn't help. I eventually gave up and turned it off. The issue didn't recur when I started a new character.
Almost immediately after I won, I started a new game and tried to pick the hardest options that I could think of. I chose a chaotic evil male gnome thief and rolled until a dexterity of 9 and a strength of 7. I set the dungeon to "Hard" with permadeath.
The weakest character I can conceive of.
The character started with leather armor and a short sword. I killed about six goblins and orcs but didn't have any way to heal when they hit me. I didn't last more than 10 minutes. 
My heart may not have been in it.
So I tried another tactic: randomization. Using random numbers, I ended up with a true neutral half-elf fighter/thief with great strength and charisma (what does charisma do in this game?). For difficulty, I ended up with:
  • 11 levels.
  • Monster amount of 6 on a scale of 0-7 (same scale for all below except where specified).
  • Treasure amount 7.
  • Food availability 3.
  • Illusory walls 1.
  • Key frequency 7.
  • Magic traps 4.
  • Pit frequency 7.
  • Hints 3.
  • Magical zones on.
  • Water level on.
  • Multi-level puzzles on.
  • Undead off.
  • Food consumption 2.
  • Monster difficulty 0.
  • Magic power 5.
  • Poison strength 7.
  • Permadeath
  • Enemy spells on.
Five minutes into the level, I had eight keys and key-equivalents.
I'm going to do my best with this one. The very low enemy difficulty will hopefully offset the permadeath. In the meantime, your assignment is: download this game, play your own preferred character or randomize one, and report on your experience. I can't afford to play a single game for too long, so help me document as much as we can.
Time so far: 11 hours (the winning game took about 8).


  1. GOG's EOB3 has the patched AESOP engine, so it's not surprising that it works better.

    Medusas are awful, they are fast, and can poison and petrify. Petrification is a bit random, I've cleared half of a level while being careless while never being petrified, and then it happened three times in a row. When playing with permadeath, I used Spiritual Hammer and made sure I didn't get trapped.

    The spider thing is a Tlincalli.

    I'm glad you didn't find items of Midnight. I recently played a Bard and a Paladin, and they both got the items of Midnight, as did all the old characters I played before. I was beginning to think the GOG version was bugged. I think my very first character had different legendary items, but the old save won't load anymore.

    I think the "spiders crawling all over my body" message is for a no-magic zone but I'm not sure.

    1. Your final enemy looks like the one on the box cover. I had to look him up, apparently it's an elemental lord. I mostly got blue dragons.

    2. Ha. You're 100% right. I completely overlooked the similarity to the box cover.

  2. Spell power is based on character level, and that's it.

    That final boss is supposed to be an Elemental Lord, hence the mixture of elements.

    Charisma does nothing in this game, or indeed in most D&D computer games, except you need a high charisma to be a bard or paladin. In this edition of D&D, strength does basically nothing if you're not a melee bruiser; wisdom does almost nothing if you're not a divine spellcaster; and charisma only affects the rarely-used henchmen rules.

  3. The best mage spells are
    -Improved Identify
    -Haste (Double attack speed)
    -Improved Invisibility (-4 AC)
    -True Sight (See through Illusionary Walls, see invisible monsters, cursed items glow red and other magic items glow blue).

    I do think those spells make playing a Fighter/Mage or Fighter/Cleric/Mage worth it over a regular Fighter or Fighter/Cleric.
    The other use of magic is against Living Mucks if you were too unlucky to find a Staff of Striking or Wand of Smiting.

    1. There's another mage spell that's a bit overpowered. Inzcvevp Gbhpu jvyy vapernfr lbhe uvg cbvagf nobir znkvzhz, naq gurfr uvg cbvagf qba'g trg ybfg bire gvzr, gurl whfg tb qbja yvxr abezny uvg cbvagf jura lbh trg uvg. Guhf lbhe zntr pna rssrpgviryl unir sne bire 100 uvg cbvagf.

  4. I tried playing it as a straight mage back in late 90es, and, based on your description of magic, it is about as unenjoyable as I remember it.

  5. "things that seem like they should be impossible and I think were impossible in Eye of the Beholder despite the games sharing the same engine"

    As Buck alludes to above, EOB 1 and 2 were made by Westwood using their proprietary tech. EOB 3 was made using the AESOP engine and I gather that DreamForge also used that engine for Dungeon Hack. Of course, AESOP was designed to adhere as close to the look and feel of Westwood's Beholder games as possible, but...

    1. I fired up EOTB3 and didn't encounter any of the same timing problems, but Buck above talks about the GOG version being "patched."

    2. You can check by executing the AESOP.EXE directly, with EOB3/GOG it will give you the version "AESOP/32", Dungeon Hack has "AESOP/16".

      I installed a different version of that EOB3 with AESOP/16 to try it out, but it didn't run out of the box and I decided fixing it wasn't worth the effort.

  6. "Why not four daggers?"

    He's gotta be able to scratch his armpits, you see.

  7. Chet's description of the game's glitches and questionable combat implementantion makes the "Hack" in the title assume a whole new meaning...

  8. I don't want to alarm you, but there may be an Eastman or EastMEN in the dungeon!

  9. The scorpion guys are Tlincali/Stingers, and are the main foe in the interlude chapter of NWN: Shadows of Undrentide.

    1. Thanks. I played that game, but I don't remember those monsters.

  10. The unintuitive lumpy nature of the game's battle rounds timing aside, did the advice on using cycles max instead of high numeric cycles help you with your turning and movement?

  11. As others have suggested, the weird combat is probably some sort of emulation glitch, but I do wonder if it's possible that they've tried to implement AD&D initiative somehow and that's causing the odd order of events.

    1. I don't think it's any kind of glitch. I definitely think it's an attempt to realtime-ise round based combat. With the disconcerting side effect of the game showing you something that's different from what it's thinking - which in turn is something different from what the player thinks it's thinking.

      I believe there's a trend in later game design to explicitly penalise waltz-type combat with opportunity attack and engagement rules. My interpretation is DH internally thinks along the simple lines of 'well the player was in front of my monster on my monster's turn, so it attacks, then it hits', making DH's delayed strikes a pseudo-equivalent unintentionally.

    2. On the other hand, I think it is most definitely a glitch, because this doesn't happen in (e.g.) EOB3. Chet notes that monsters run on a different timer than the player, and that's just asking for trouble.

      Maybe I'll download DOSbox and experiment a bit; I think I have this game on Steam.

    3. In my case, Dosbox uses 3000 cycles by default for this game, which results in very poor performance - the game would stutter while something is happening, such as a closing door. When I set the "cycles" configuration to "max" or 18000, the game is fast and doesn't seem to have timing problems. I think the combat behavior is as intended.

      I don't see why it should be an emulation glitch. (I'm not aware of any potential problems with Dosbox's emulation, aside from being able to run old games too fast.) And I don't understand why the fact that this doesn't occur in EOB3 should indicate that this an emulation problem.

      The potential reasons that mecha-neko stated make sense to me. The designers might have wanted to reduce the utility of the usual sidestepping and backpedaling maneuvers. Their approach is similar to some suggestions I remember from old comment threads on this blog about how to solve the problems with the combat waltz. I think somebody even responded with something like "what, you want the enemies to get a free attack?"

      Assuming the behavior was intended, then I think this is a good example of a poor solution to the problems of real-time backpedaling in CRPGs.

  12. There's some weirdness with exceptional strength in AD&D2 from what I remember, where a 19 is not better than an 18/00, but it has been a long time since I've played under those rules. Another thing I'm trying to figure out is how is the game dividing the experience for multiclass characters. As I recall, a mage required much more experience to level than a cleric, but in the finished playthrough, your character had a higher mage level than cleric level. I'm guessing this could be a bug, though.

    1. The difference is very small from 18/00 to 19, only +1 damage.

    2. Yeah, 19 Str is better than 18/00, but the differences between the percentile tiers tend to be more impactful.

      As for the leveling, this isn't a bug, just a reflection of the bizarre nature of the AD&D leveling tables; it takes more XP for mages to level up than clerics at first (mages need a full 50% more XP to hit level 6!) before flipping around level 8 (it's the cleric who needs 80% more XP to level up to 10) and then going back to the mage needing more after level 13. I'm sure Gygax had a well-thought-out reason for this, though!

    3. Ah, like I said, it's been a while since I played 2nd Edition, and I never got very high in level with any of the games I played in. Looked up the Maul of the Titans, and it requires a Strength of 21! I had no idea the exp tables were so screwy, flip-flopping like that!

    4. Possibly there is a Girdle of Giant (Titan) Strength somewhere that would raise your character's strength enough to wield the Maul. Or possibly they just included some random-ish magic items without considering whether they could actually be used.

    5. There are gloves of fire, hill, ... giant strength in the game that raise your strength to 19, 20, 21, 22 respectively. Found one that raises your strength to 22 early in my last game, which was a huge help. And you can ignore any weakening effects.

    6. "In the game" in this sense means "in the code." No single game is guaranteed to produce any of them.

  13. I've also ran a Cleric/Mage, on a rather easy dungeon setting. I was sure to turn off Illusory walls, but apparently secret doors were a thing anyway. In one place I was stumped because there was no way forward - that is until I scanned the walls really closely and found a small button, which made one section of blank wall just vanish. There was another on next level, but this time I got a message about noticing a secret door on my left. It's possible that there was one back at the first secret door, but it scrolled by too quick. I found two staves of striking+3, which were items with charges in AD&D, but I don't think that was implemented in Dungeon Hack, and they were just quarterstaves+3. I had more luck with spell scrolls, and found Haste early - it's immensely helpful. I also found multiple Potions of Neutralize Poison (at least 3) and scrolls of cause X wounds and cure X wounds.

    I also had a different experience with power of magic, as I had magic power setting set high, and so magic missile one-shot a lot of monsters and Cure Light wounds cured more than the standard 1d8 HP - typically around 14 from what I've seen. I also turned enemy spells on, and the first time it happened a Slithermorph boss messed me up, getting me down to 1 HP before I bravely ran away at warp speed to heal. I remember the sound effect for magic missile being used, but I didn't see the graphics of it.

    1. @Chet, this makes me wonder if you had Enemy Spells turned off for this run? Because you describe the slithermorph as having no special attacks, but Krisnan suggests it does have one.

    2. I always have enemy spells on, but I don't think I've ever had a slithermorph cast a spell. They just hit really hard.
      Very occasionally there are traps like fireballs shooting along corridors. Maybe that was where the damage came from.

    3. Yeah, same. I definitely had enemy spells turned on, but I'm not sure I saw any evidence of them using spells.

  14. For some reason I find the image of the adventurer with a literal wheelbarrow of loot at the end so funny.
    Also reminds me when Dungeon Siege looked so innovative for including a mule to carry around all the loot of your party.
    It's kinda "sad" that there's no way to actually implement something like that in a videogame without it being either busywork or automatizing it to the point that's just background colour (which is still nice but not a gameplay mechanic)

    1. It was implemented pretty well in Fallout 2 with the Highwayman's trunk.

    2. Yes, thinking about it it's probably one of the best examples. One still has to trek to and fro it when overencumbered or if they had forgotten to put/take something (well, that's their problem, not a mechanic fault) but at least it's practical and added to the immersion instead of taking off of it

    3. I always believed that computer games just abstract this away, as higher editions of DnD did - one of the important reason charisma WAS (somewhat) important in earlier editions was that you had to use a lot of henchmen and hirelings to carry gear and treasure, to carry torches so that adenturers can fight and do stuff and so on. In computer games there's almost always auto-torches with endless fuel in every dungeon!

    4. Daggerfall has the system where you can trek back to the dungeon entrance and deposit things on your horse or wagon (which are assumed to be with you in town or the overworld).

    5. And in Baldur's Gate 3, you can just "send to camp" any item at any time. I've been imagining an army of invisible pages working for the party. Then again, "camp" seems to travel with you, so perhaps it's not supposed to be very far.

    6. There is a D&D wizard spell that summons an invisible page for you; it's called Unseen Servant. I haven't seen it in any computer adaptations though.

    7. Well, of course you didn't see it unless you had See Invisibility active.

    8. What would be a fun mechanic, in a party-based game, is to have a beast of burden as a party member - so that there's a trade-off between a greatly expanded inventory and losing a character slot.

    9. In Dungeon Siege you could buy a donkey to come around with you, trading an extra party member for a ton of inventory space.

  15. Just found out this good web page. Will come back often!

  16. It has bugged me the entire time that you are using Improved Identify when there is nothing in the game to be Improved from. I'm sure that is a result of 2nd edition rules, I have a vague memory of multiple levels of identify spells, but I stopped playing 2nd when I hit high school and 3rd came out, so it has been a REAL long time.

    1. That's a really good point. Where's just regular "Identify"?

    2. Well, I can answer my own question. AD&D1 has a spell called "Identify" (Level 1 divination) that pretty much does what "Improved Identify" does here: it tells you what you've got.

      "Identify" was nerfed in AD&D2 to only tell you something about your item but never "its exact attack or damage bonuses." If your item did a bunch of stuff, each handling could identify one thing, but you got a number of "handlings" equal to your spellcasting level.

      So the table was set for a more advanced version of "Identify" that just told you everything, including specific values, but oddly there's no "Improved Identify" spell listed in the original AD&D2 books. Googling the spell turns up mostly references to EOTB1 and 2 and DH, so I assume they made it up for the computer games, probably because it was too hard to represent the results of plain "Identify" in a computer game.

    3. In 2e as written, Identify 1) takes eight hours of experimenting with the item; 2) has only a 10% chance of caster level of providing any useful information (and a 5% chance of giving you incorrect info); 3) only tells you one property of an item (which doesn't tell you exact plusses or number of charges); 4) requires the use of a 100gp pearl, which is consumed in the casting; 5) temporarily drains 8 points of CON.

      Improved Identify was IIRC just made up for the CRPGs because of course no one was going to implement that as written; heck, I don't think anyone actually *played* with the spell as written, but it might have been easier for license compliance purposes to say "we're making up a new spell" rather than "we're changing how an existing spell works"?

    4. In 2e as written, Identify 1) takes eight hours of experimenting with the item; 2) has only a 10% chance of caster level of providing any useful information (and a 5% chance of giving you incorrect info); 3) only tells you one property of an item (which doesn't tell you exact plusses or number of charges); 4) requires the use of a 100gp pearl, which is consumed in the casting; 5) temporarily drains 8 points of CON.

      Improved Identify was IIRC just made up for the CRPGs because of course no one was going to implement that as written; heck, I don't think anyone actually *played* with the spell as written, but it might have been easier for license compliance purposes to say "we're making up a new spell" rather than "we're changing how an existing spell works"?

  17. In 2e as written, Identify 1) takes eight hours of experimenting with the item; 2) has only a 10% chance of caster level of providing any useful information (and a 5% chance of giving you incorrect info); 3) only tells you one property of an item (which doesn't tell you exact plusses or number of charges); 4) requires the use of a 100gp pearl, which is consumed in the casting; 5) temporarily drains 8 points of CON.

    Improved Identify was IIRC just made up for the CRPGs because of course no one was going to implement that as written; heck, I don't think anyone actually *played* with the spell as written, but it might have been easier for license compliance purposes to say "we're making up a new spell" rather than "we're changing how an existing spell works"?


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