Friday, August 13, 2010

Game 21: Larn (1986)

"Good luck! You're going to need it!" is always a bad sign.

About 10 months ago now, when I hit upon the idiotic idea of playing every CRPG that ever existed, I downloaded and started Rogue. I hadn't begun this blog yet, so you missed out on a blow-by-blow recap of my experiences, which I summarized in two postings, four months later, after I finally won. It amuses me to think what my blog would have looked like if I'd started it last October:

  • Day 1: Started Rogue. Died almost immediately. Re-started. Died again.
  • Day 2: Died again. Re-started. Got down to level 3. Died.
  • Day 3: Died 16 times. Re-started. Died.

I think I would have lost my readership fairly quickly.

This will be my only posting on Larn. I apologize to the many roguelike fans out there--and there seem to be many who are fans of Larn specifically; there's even a blog just about Larn--but really, once I tell you stuff about the basic gameplay, there's really nothing else to blog about except how many times I died that day. Even if I was inclined to spend four months seeking the MacGuffin of Yendor again, you wouldn't want to read about it.

At least Rogue didn't have exploding chests.

Larn is an embellished roguelike. As with most roguelikes, the graphics are very sparse. Your character is represented by an @. Monsters are letters. Walls are pound signs (#). And so on. Interaction is through a fairly large selection of keyboard commands in which capitalization matters. You don't want to mix up (r)ead a scroll with (R)emove gems from throne, because the latter has a nasty habit of sending a gnome king to kill you.

You can read about the basic approach to this kind of game in my postings on Rogue. Almost everything holds, including permanent death (the game deletes your save file every time you start up). Larn's additions are:

  • Your quest is not to recover the Amulet of Yendor, but rather a potion that will save your daughter from dianthroritis. Someone who's taken Latin, help me out.
  • The game is not timed by your own starvation, causing you to press forever downward to get more food, but rather by an actual time limit. You have 300 "mobuls" to save your daughter. There are scrolls which set back the clock a bit.
  • You can backtrack within dungeons to upper levels.
  • There are things to find in the dungeons that seem to have been inspired by DND or Telengard, including thrones, fountains, and altars.
  • The game starts you in an outdoor area with shops and a training college where--for precious gold and mobuls--you can improve your stats.

The game is addictive, I'll give it that. I just got a major government contract that I have to finish by September 30, but damned if I didn't spend the entire day playing Larn instead.

It cost $235 of your tax dollars to make this map of level 1.

I went through about nine characters today, never making it past level 3 of the dungeon. I could see keeping this game around and dipping into it from time to time, but I can't see making a concerted effort to finish it.

Swarmed and killed by giant ants.

Oh, I suppose some of you are wondering what happened to Moebius. I just wasn't getting into it. In a comment on my one Moebius posting, reader judgemonroe said: "So far I'm not thrilled with the gameplay. I don't have the hang of it yet, I guess, but the controls feel very sluggish and I keep starving. I have no idea where to get more food and water." That pretty much sums up my experience. The game is also very chaotic, constantly chirping at you about earthquakes and famines and droughts. Tigers and beetles come flying at you from nowhere; thieves run off with your stuff. In another time, I would have given it more of a chance, but I need something a little less bizarre to get back in to the swing of things after a 10-day absence. My next three games--Rings of Zilfin, Shard of Spring, and Starcraft--are all 1986 games, and I suppose I could play them in any order. I'm going to give each about an hour to see which "takes" the best because I want to go the distance on my next one.


  1. Can I just ask one thing, why is "#" referred to as the pound sign? As a Brit, I regard "£" to be the pound sign (as in pounds sterling, our currency).

    More on topic, I've never been able to get into the older rogue-likes. The earliest one I really enjoyed was Fatal Labyrinth (megadrive/game gear), but the whole ASCII thing kinda turned me off. I was used to the rather basic but more detailed Ultima games early on in my cRPG life.

    1. The '#' sign and the british pound sign share the same spot on the keyboard, depending on whether you have a British layout or a US one. Historically everyone had the same keyboard and it truly was the pound sign then. Probably something to do with the original teletypes and ASCII. In those days the pound was 0x23, but that is superceded by '#' now.

  2. I reckon roguelikes are a love or hate affair (I tend towards hate but find them fascinating nonetheless). One either considers them the greatest computer games ever made or avoids them like the plague. Most of them are punishingly difficult and in this probably lies their appeal for many players. Some players even try to play "conducts" for an additional challenge, i.e. voluntary restrict their possible actions e.g. by playing a blindfolded character or killing no monsters. Other players exploit (the randomized nature of) these games as a storytelling device, keeping public diaries of their adventures, without any actual aim of completing the game.

    It's funny how Wikipedia's page on Larn claims that it "can reasonably be completed in one play session" but at the same time highlights that "Larn increases in difficulty each time finished" and "Larn also requires the player pay a tax in subsequent games based on the amount of money in the player's possession when the game was last won".

    For anyone interested in these games, there is a long running column at GameSetWatch entirely devoted to the genre. (

    As for Moebius, there is a longplay on Youtube that shows all about it. All in all, it seems a repetitive game.

  3. For at least two major roguelikes, it is possible to play, and watch others play, on public servers, using ssh or telnet. For Crawl, the address is, for NetHack,; both servers have webpages with additional info.

  4. Well, Larn does not offer huge differences over Rogue, as far as the game experience. Some others may be worth more of your time- depending, of course, on whether you actually find a version that's fun for you. While I do enjoy roguelikes, I would never choose to play Larn or Rogue when ADOM, TOME, Zangband, Crawl, or even Nethack (which I started with, but I've lost the taste for) are available.

  5. Larn is one of my fav roguelikes, very easy compared to others of its era.

  6. Rings of Zilfin is a game that could have been great but wasnt, which is good as it morphed into Magic Candle I. Shard of spring is also the precursor to one of my fav games, Demons Winter, and again its a game that could have been but wasn't. I do like Shard of Spring much more than Rings of Zilfin. I dont recall starcraft tho, but if you mean Starflight, this is indeed an awesome classic! I think all three are worth of covering in some detail.

  7. Re: dianthroritis - as I understand it, "itis" denotes inflammation, so it seems the poor dear is suffering from a swollen dianthror. Personally I'd be inclined to wait and see if it goes down by itself, rather than legging it straight to the nearest Big Scary Dungeon. But that's just me.

  8. One thing to note with Larn was that it was the first to have a 'town' level which you can do stuff in, go to weapons shop, bank etc. It was also the first to have two dungeons, the dungeon and the volcano.

  9. CRPGaddict, you mentioned you are going to play Starcraft, but going by the list I assume you meant Starflight, especially since Starcraft came out in 1998, not 1986.

    I think you just made a freudian slip, what with the recent release of Starcraft II and all!

  10. Lots of great comments.

    ANDY: I have no idea why # is called the "pound sign" in the U.S. It comes from telephone terminology. I know I have an international readership, and I should have just referred to it as the "number sign."

    ARCANUM: Thanks for your insight. I don't think I'll become a lover of roguelikes, but I'll continue to give them a try. I appreciate the link.

    PIPE: Those games you mention are all on my list. I keep hearing about Nethack; have never played it.

    EMORDINO: Thanks. I did have the ITIS. I was thinking that maybe DIAN and THROR were Latin roots, too.

    STU: Interesting. I thought the volcano was just an alternate entrance to a lower level of the dungeon. Maybe I should have given Larn more time.

    ANON: You are right about Starflight. I must have been influenced by all the ads I'm seeing for Starcraft II.

  11. Di-anthro-itis (or di-anthr-itis) would mean the inflammation of two men.

  12. So my daughter is suffering from two inflamed men? It sounds to me I need to spend MORE time at home, with a shotgun, instead of exploring dungeons.

  13. @andy if you are still looking for an explanation about the pound sign, i found one on wikipedia for you:

  14. Larn was the first roguelike that I ever completed without cheating.
    Easier and fairer than most roguelikes, no instadeaths or such.

    I do remember tile graphics though, perhaps I played Amiga version.

  15. For much the same reason, Larn is my favorite roguelike (as you might have gleaned from an earlier post): not having starvation hanging over your head makes a HUGE difference, and does make the game easy to complete in 90 minutes or so. I also love how easy it is to learn and use spells in the game. Once you evade the Demon Lord at the bottom of the dungeon and fetch the Eye of Larn, you can either sell it for an obscene amount of money, or keep it in your inventory. Selling it is a rookie mistake which seems surprisingly common: most of the blogs and articles I read about the game in a random sampling mention the Eye of Larn/Lance of Death connection. Yes, the Lance of Death will kill just about anything it hits (it does a "death" spell on a successful hit, which more powerful creatures can resist), but the problem is, it's a *lance*, so actually a pretty pathetic weapon: it doesn't hit as reliably as other weapons such as the sunsword. So players going for the Lance of Death are often mystified why they keep getting killed. As long as you keep the Eye of Larn, on the other hand, your spell points regenerate super fast and you can detect invisible creatures, even "super-invisible" ones like demon lords. I've always liked the idea that the artifact that you fetch as a quest actually has some practical use, other than just to turn it in and get a reward.

    Years ago, a friend passed on an important tip his father had gleaned, playing the game: in the beginning, carry out any chests you find and sell them without opening for an amount of cash that is quite significant at the lower levels of the game. That really gives a player a leg up, and can cut as much as a half hour off of the time needed. You can do the same thing with books - one of the quickest ways to succeed in the game is to find the book on level 1, sell it without reading, use the money to buy the chest from the store, then sell the chest at the trading post for something like 10000 gold, which you then use to buy chain mail and a longsword - but the drawback is that books are the way you learn spells, and spells become more and more important as the game progresses.

    Final note on replaying the game: the tax is a tidy way of bumping up the difficulty without actually making the game significantly just takes more time, as you have to pay your taxes before you can buy equipment (of course you can use whatever you find). Only after winning the game a few times does the time limit actually become a concern. When you start the game at difficulty 0, you will never actually come close to using up all 300 mobuls.

  16. I'm pretty sure dionthronritis is what got Elvis in the end.

  17. It seems that the roguelikes are a completely different school of RPGs. There's no character creation and no detailed character development. No dialogue choices. No side-quests. They are like an old-fashioned discipline of a sport for a selected few. I think that they're as much apart from the present concept of "RPGs" as a game like Starflight or Pirates!.

    1. Soon he should reach roguelikes that offer character creation and after that more detailed development as well as side quests.

      The genre has historically been lacking on the dialogue portion, mostly due to fitting things like "good" dialogue which makes a difference in the game into procedurally generated worlds is rather difficult. I do think that is also starting to change with the newer roguelikes inserting designed areas randomly into the procedurally generated environment, so there is hope for building dialog options into the genre.

    2. When I delt with the captcha it hit me that "Please prove you're not a robot" sounds prejudicial.

      Fight for non-biological entities rights!

    3. "Not a robot! A cyborg: cybernetic organism. Living tissue over a metal endoskeleton."

      For some reason I heard Arnold when I read the captcha.

  18. If you're looking for a place to play Larn online, you can go to and play the game in your browser.

  19. How do you drop gold? Stuck at the bottom of the volcano shaft with no way to climb up. I understand the "D" for drop. Just not the key for gold. Thanks.

    1. You chose the 'drop' function, then hit the "."(period) key. It will ask you how much. Chose either "*" for all, or type in the amount. I dump regularly so I do not slide down the volcano entrance. It is the same for when you offer money at the alter.

      A nice trick is to dump your money into 4-5 piles of 4-5000 each, and give money over and over to the alters, sooner or later you get free weapon or armor upgrades. Drop your shield so they go on your body armor first.

      Good luck.

  20. I started playing larn in 88 and got to Ularn later. My fiance at the time played it at the computer lab at WKU in Bowling Green Kentucky. 28 years later, we've been married 27 years, and we both now have Ularn on our computers still. A nice time killing fun game.

  21. Larn was the first roguelike I played, and I still love it, It has a very strategic base while replaying, a feeling that much later was recreated by Diablo. Though, Larn was better. It still is a great game to play (I just loved the spell system).

  22. I loved Larn because (A) it's one of the few roguelikes I've actually been able to win, and (B) it's "tidy" -- there's not a whole lot of distracting extras. It's like the kernel of roguelikes; a small self-contained jewel.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.