Monday, February 15, 2010

Game 3: Dunjonquest: Temple of Apshai (1979) and Expansions

Note from 19 February 2013: Three years after I first posted about the Temple of Apshai trilogy below, I re-visited it briefly in a posting that covers both the original Temple of Apshai and two other games using the same engine, all released in 1979. If you're reading my blog from the beginning and want to get a full picture of this series, I strongly recommend that you read the second posting as well.

This was my first posting while playing a game specifically for this blog. I didn't have my "voice" yet. If you're a new reader, please stick with me until at least Ultima IV before you decide whether my blog is "good."

The rest of the text below is the original 15 February 2010 posting.

Dunjonquest: Temple of Apshai
United States
Automated Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1979 for Commodore PET and TRS-80; 1980 for Apple II and Atari 800; 1982 for DOS; 1983 for Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore 64

Dunjonquest: Upper Reaches of Apshai
United States
Automated Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1981 for Apple II and TRS-80; 1982 for Atari 800 and DOS; 1983 for Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore 64

Dunjonquest: The Curse of Ra
United States
Automated Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1982 for Apple II, Atari 800, DOS, and TRS-80; 1983 for Commodore 64

All three games assembled and re-released as Temple of Apshai Trilogy in 1985 for Apple II, Atari 800, and Commodore 64; 1986 for Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, and Macintosh; 1987 for Amstrad CPC and Thomson TO

Date Started: 15 February 2010
Date Ended: 15 February 2010
Total Hours: 6
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 28
Ranking at Game #413: 222/413 (54%)
Temple of Apshai begins by inviting you to cheat in the worst possible way. When you first start, you can generate a character randomly or "enter thine own character." The manual helpfully explains that you might want to import a character from some other adventure. I don't know whether the creators really thought legions of pen-and-paper RPG players would import their characters to Temple of Apshai or whether they were just providing some easy way to cheat, but choosing this option allows you to give yourself the highest statistics, all the equipment, and as much money and experience as you want.

Generally, I don't regard it as "cheating" if you use features the game provides to you, but in this case to get the full challenge of the game, I chose a random character. Out of 18 maximum, I got 8 for intelligence and intuition, 13 for ego, 14 for strength, 11 for constitution, 12 for dexterity, and 43 silver pieces. Sounds like I'm a fighter, maybe a barbarian. I chose the name "Gnarge" 'cause it sounds like something a barbarian would say. The game has you purchase your equipment from an innkeeper via an all-text interface, and in short order you're in one of three temples, each with four levels.

Gnarge the Barbarian prepares to sally forth.

Almost immediately, I discovered something unique about Temple of Apshai. Each of the rooms and corridors, all numbered, have corresponding textual descriptions in the game manual. For instance, you start off in Room #1, of which the manual says: "The smooth stonework of the passageway floor shows that advanced methods were used in its creation. A skeleton sprawls on the floor just inside the door, a bony hand still clutching a rusty dagger, outstretched toward the door to safety. A faint roaring sound can be heard from the far end of the passage." Other descriptions even reference items that you find in the rooms and hint at the presence of certain monsters, treasures, or secret doors. For instance, a warning about a hole in the floor and "a very long drop" prompted me to search for, and find, a trap, and a note that "the west wall of the cavern shows the marks of carving tools" clued me in to the presence of a secret door. It's vaguely fun trying to figure out whether "the air smells of decaying vegetable matter" indicates something important or not.

The treasures have descriptions, too. "A beautiful cloak, wondrously light, yet tough as nails," the manual says of an early find. (Too bad I can't wear it.) The effect is to make Temple of Apshai like a graphics-enabled version of pen-and-paper RPGs. In some ways, it reminds me of the adventurers' journals that accompanied the "Gold Box" D&D games, which I still remember fondly. The rooms in TOA change quickly, though, and it's tough to keep up with all of them.

The gameplay essentially consists of wandering through the passages, fighting monsters, and gathering treasure from chests. When you leave the temple and return to the inn, the innkeeper automatically converts your treasure to silver, which you can then use to purchase better equipment or more healing salves. I've been playing for a few hours, and I think that's all there is to it. As you fight monsters (mostly mosquitos and rats on Level 1) and get hit, your health slowly decreases from 100%. Healing salves only bump it up by a few percentages, so eventually you have to make your way back to the entrance and return to the inn to rest and save. When you do, the dungeon completely resets. According to the manual, the innkeeper is supposed to be assigning me experience for the monsters I've slain in each sortie, but no matter how long I spend in the dungeon or how many monsters I kill, my experience points remain fixed at 0.

Gnarge fights the scourge of all first-level adventurers.

After but a few hours of game play, I have more silver than I need to buy all of the items the innkeeper sells. I don't know yet whether there are any other places to buy items in the game, but I suspect not. Having too much money is one of the things I can't stand about most CRPGs. There should always be something new to buy, some way to spend your money. But almost every CRPG I know reaches a point--often fairly early--in which it no longer makes any sense to accumulate wealth. The only exceptions I know off the top of my head are the Hordes of the Underdark expansion to Neverwinter Nights, in which you can keep upgrading your weapons with more money, and Might and Magic VI, in which you can convert your money to experience via a magic well.

Other oddities to Temple of Apshai: I bought a bow and arrows but I can't seem to hit anything no matter how many arrows I shoot (which is too bad because monsters don't seem to advance while you're shooting at them). Even with melee weapons, I seem to get into positions in which all of my strikes, even against the basest of monsters, miss. You can talk to monsters, even ones like bats and rats that shouldn't logically be able to speak. They generally say "ye may pass" but then attack you anyway. I've noticed that the rooms go in rough order, so if you suddenly skip from Room 3 to Room 9, that's a good sign there was a secret door back in Room 3 leading to Rooms 4-8. The game seems to often think I've pressed the "H" key even when I haven't, forcing me to use up a healing salve.

Our intrepid adventurer is about to be slain by Pedobear.

Already I'm suspecting that there is no way to "win" Temple of Apshai. The manual doesn't give any suggestion that there is an ultimate goal except to continue to gain experience (which I can't seem to do) and, I guess, explore every crevice of the three dungeons. My rules say I have to devote a minimum of six hours to a game, so I'll keep playing until I get sick of it or discover hidden depths. If there's any of the latter, I'll write a second posting on Apshai. Otherwise, it's on to the original Ultima.*

*Someone who responded to my original posting on Reddit suggested I would really enjoy Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Alas, there doesn't seem to have been a DOS port for that game.


Further reading: An expanded post on Temple of Apshai (1979) and two spin-offs, Datestones of Ryn and Morloc's Tower where you can see the original version, not the DOS repackaging that we have here. The Dunjonquest line continues with Hellfire Warrior (1980), StarQuest: Rescue at Rigel (1980), StarQuest: Star Warrior (1980), Sorcerer of Siva (1981), The Keys of Acheron (1981), Danger in Drindisti (1982), and Gateway to Apshai. Relative to my last line above, I did eventually play Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1981).


  1. Thanks for making this informative, interesting and well-written blog. For me, CRPGs started with Ultima VI, hopefully you'll get there someday. I'll keep coming back for more.

  2. I tryed to play this game and wondered why no expirience is gained after returning from dungeon. At least it is clear now that it is some kind of bug. By the way, arrows do hit monsters. You just have to stand on one line with your target. And after talking to them they still will pursue your character but not attack. Though they will attack again after you leave the room and re-enter it. In this case you have to speak to them once more. Oddly enough "Temple of Apshai" runs under XP even without DOSBox. Can't remember any other DOS-game as XP-friendly as ToA. ^_^

  3. I picked this up today since I've been on a WRPG kick recently. The C64 version seems to work fine. Here's a mini-writeup since you got hampered by bugs in your run :).

    Dungeon 1-1
    Rolled until I got a decent random character, ended up with a nice set of level 1 equips. Started out progressing very slowly; couldn't advance very far without getting killed and found pretty much only worthless loot. Eventually I found myself $30, which I bought a decent sword with. On my next deeper run I found 5 diamonds, which being worth $500, let me haggle a Full Plate Armor. Also discovered that arrows seemingly kill anything in one hit. Next run cleared out the entire dungeon, netting a ton of diamonds and $3700!!!! Pretty insane loot for the first 1/12 of a game.

    Dungeon 1-2
    Easily one-shotted the whole level, hidden rooms and all. Now have $8000. It's a lot of fun overall, but rather dismayed at the lack of difficulty now.

    Dungeon 1-3
    Got beaten down to 50% HP by an Antman in the first room, and then died instantly from a 'Rocks Fall' trap in the second. LMAO! This might be a challenge after all :).

  4. I've been playing this version of ToA and I've been having the same problems - not getting EXP, randomly using items, constantly missing enemies in combat, and arrows doing nothing. The bugs (or emulation glitches) are annoying, but the game itself is pretty fun, if a bit primitive.

  5. Hey, Kalinova. Thanks for taking the time to comment on an old post. I actually liked TOA a bit--especially the "room descriptions" in the manual, which was unique--but the experience bug bothered me, as did the lack of a main quest.

    Taylor, sorry I didn't respond to your earlier comment. I wonder if I can find a way for readers who go further than I do in some of these games to contribute postings. Not sure how the mechanics would work. I'll think about it, 'cause your comment was fun to read.

  6. Apparently this was a huge hit back in the day. According to Wiki, it outsold Ultima and Wizardry and was well loved.

    It's weird how things drop out of the common memory.

    1. What are you doing way back here?

      I can see why it was successful at the time. I has a very interesting gameplay mechanic. I just wish it had a main quest. I would have played it longer if there was some way to "win."

    2. Hahaha, I've been reading more about the 'earliest' days of RPGs, just sort of straightening out my own view of the evolution.

  7. I can't believe I only recently stumbled upon your great blog. Maybe After reading your experience I was really wondering to wether the game has some kind of an end to it. So I googled a bit and it seems Apshai really isn't a game you are supposed to beat in any way according to . "There’s not much point to methodical exploration anyway, as there is absolutely no way to really win the game. For all its emphasis on the experiential, one cannot bring Apshai to any conclusion. One merely explores, levels up, and collects until one gets tired of the whole thing."

    1. Glad to have that confirmed. I was wrong about Autoduel not having a main quest or ending, and I was vaguely worried I'd gotten that wrong about Apshai, too.

  8. Great game. I bought it back in the day (circa 1980) as an 10 year old and played it on the Atari 800. The bugs you mention didn't exist in that port as far as I recall. And those room descriptions are easily the most memorable I've ever seen in a game. To this day, decades later I could read one completely out of context and would instantly realize they belong to Apshai. Anyways, fun times.

  9. Temple of Apshai (or more specifically the Temple of Apshai Trilogy collection for my Atari 800 XL) was definitely one of my favorite games of my childhood. And yet interestingly I was too young to understand that the room descriptions in the manual had anything to do with the game itself, I somehow was convinced that it had something to do with playing Dungeons & Dragons, like, if you wanted to play the game in "real life" you would read the manual entries.

    To be fair, that would also work, it is just not what was intended, haha.

  10. Looks like this one had an amiga version with marginally better graphics, but odds are the game play would be about the same, though screenshots show the option of using the mouse.

  11. I remember playing "Gateway to Apshai" on the C64 and that was a lot of fun, but ultimately a let down do to there being no eventual ending (of which I ever became aware). The graphics for this game look... similar but different to that sort of re-make/spin-off. I remember buying the Trilogy back in the mid-90s thinking "Oh, hey, this was GREAT on the C64" and being really let down. I don't remember the experience point issue though. Maybe I didn't play it long enough to get back to the inn and sit realize I wasn't learning anything. Nice article, even for "pre-voice" !

    1. I reviewed Gateway much later:

      I didn't like it.

  12. The Commodore 64 version of this had some unique sound and music.

    As you walked through the dungeon, you'd hear these low, ominous tones. doooooooo... duuuuuuuum... duuurrrrrrrrrm... it wasn't "music" as such, the tones were random, but it really built the mood. Then when you were attacked, it would play some music. None of it was elaborate, but it fit the game perfectly.

    IMO, the fact that a lot of these early CRPG's had screens which were mostly black did a lot to build a dark atmosphere, even it it was unintentional.

    Off topic, I cannot get this blog to co-operate with Google at all. I keep trying to use my Google account as a sign in, but whenever I do, the blog wants to tries to use the name of what I assume is a previous user. Is it just me? My name is not Raymond Blue!

  13. Count me as another reader who's been devouring your blog for the past couple years, and is now going through your earlier earliest postings as well! :)

    To that end, hopefully you'll find it useful (and not, say, annoying?) if I point out that after you mention the hilarity of a character named Hammerhand only getting to wield a sword, you then refer to him as Brian HALFhand. :D

    (As a personal preference, would you rather people message you any such proofreading corrections directly, rather than via eternally-preserved comments? I could see someone caring one way or the other, or not.)

    1. I guess I prefer e-mail, but where you're making a larger comical point, I don't care if it's in a comment. I wish the comment was actually in the article that I made the mistake, though.

    2. Ah, geez! Apologies. That'll teach me to attempt replying in Safari on my phone! Apparently it went crazy. :P

      Anyway, in case you didn't know the article I was ACTUALLY referring to, it's this one. :)

  14. I think this random usage of things "bug" comes from that you are using the arrows to move. The game is intended to play using 0-9 numbers and R, L, V keys to rotate.

    However I also encountered a lot of bugs, one of them I can confirm:
    - sometimes you are unable to harm monsters

    I also tried original version of the first game but on DOS (or DOSBOX) it is unplayable. I tried on Win98 emulation, DOSBOX, DOSBOX SVN Daum, it seems that the keyboard do not work (apart from arrows).

    What is the best emulated version to play (bug-free)?

    1. Later I tried the Apple II versions of the original games and found them less buggy.

    2. Thanks, sorry for the anonymous post, I think it didn't refresh. Anyway, I think I will go with Commodore 64 Trilogy version, seems the best for me now!

  15. I wonder, would you enjoy a CRPG with Skyrim graphics and room descriptions like these, but in the game rather than in a manual. There's just something very classic PnP RPG about rooms having relevant descriptions. Well, onward!

    1. By Skyrim we've advanced to the point where the graphics and sound tell you what you need to know about room, so text descriptions are unnecessary. But sure, I'd otherwise enjoy in-game text descriptions. Baldur's Gate II did it for a few dungeons, I recall.

    2. Zardas, I’m sorry—I accidentally deleted your reply to this. The links for publish and delete are right next to each other in the email.

      Zardas said: Infinity-style games and some dungeon crawlers still do them, but since voice-overs are kind of expected these days, they usually opt for a narrator approach instead. With the right voice, it can work very well.

    3. I disagree heavily. Unless it's for the benefit of blind players, narration telling you about things that you can literally see with your eyes is just annoying.

      Narration made sense in early games because they often didn't have the processing power to draw everything in the scene, or the resolution to draw very small objects like keys and dust. It makes sense in P&P session because the DM often has to improvise in response to players' actions and can't always have a visual aid handy.

      Narration can still be useful in games with fixed perspective, where objects might be hidden behind the background, too small to see or otherwise inconvenient to represent visually. Notably, the visual novel genre often uses text descriptions to explain what's happening, while on screen there's a handful of static characters on top of a generic background scene--detail is at a premium, so unique drawings are only made for the most special of scenes, and the gaps are filled in with writing.

      However, in a game like Skyrim as originally suggested, narration explaining that snow is cold and fire is hot would get tiresome rather quickly. Brevity is the soul of wit, so on, so forth. Seeing aurora borealis or discovering Blackreach for the first time would only be harmed by text or VO describing what I'm supposed to feel, rather than just letting the moment hang in silence.

    4. They did a small amount of this narration over graphics in Dungeons & Dragons Online, except it was mainly at the entrance to dungeons and new areas just to give a bit of atmosphere. It was particularly helpful for describing smells that you obviously can't see. My favourite was the fact that the entire starting island and several early quests were narrated by the actor who played Sir Jorra from Game of Thrones. I believe they also had Wil Wheaton for some and other voice actors you might recognise here and there. But I think it was from far enough back that they didn't do voice overs for the dialogue with NPCs.

      Of course, DDO is an MMORPG rather than a standard CRPG.

    5. DDO did it to evoke the tabletop feel of a Dungeon Master reading room descriptions around the gaming table. It was neat for that! But I don't think it would really fit anywhere else, even in other MMOs.

  16. If anyone wants to see someone else's memories of playing this when it was new, I came across it on one of the other blogs I read:


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