Friday, August 27, 2010

Rings of Zilfin: An Easy Game (Except for Poison)

"Argh! Venom!" is right. Why does every game have to have poison?

Well, I owe my readers a debt. Bereft of the game manual for Rings of Zilfin, I asked for assistance. Ziad and Calibrator sent me key information and Stu posted a link to the manual itself. I'm not sure why this didn't turn up in my Googling, but it made things a lot clearer. Thank you, everyone!

Here's what the manual clarified: the land of the game is called Batiniq, and it's being conquered by an evil necromancer named Dragos. I'm some kind of Child of Destiny who was given a quest by the ghost of my dead mother to find the two Rings of Zilfin. The Zilfins were a "great race" that used to rule Batiniq but "became extinct after the battle of Bihun, many years ago." This leads to the introduction that I described in the last post. Dzomon is "a vicious demon, strong right arm of Lord Dragos." Dragos seized one of the Rings when he took the Zilfins' old castle, but he's still seeking the other, along with the fabled treasure of King Fulgarsh, which was carried off by a dragon. So...yeah.

The manual also helped with a lot of the navigational and logistical aspects of the game.

With this in hand, I see what Matt Barton means by Rings of Zilfin being a game "for novices." It's horribly easy. There are a limited selection of commands, only a handful of different weapons, three combat actions, and about a dozen spells. At first, I thought that figuring out what the different mushrooms and plants do was part of the challenge, but no, the manual tells you straight off.

The game consists of exploring a series of screens arranged within three kingdoms: Deloria, Begonia, and Sumaria. I've only explored Deloria so far, where there were 22 locations, including cities, towns, castles, wilderness areas, and special encounters. Each town has two or three buildings which might be shops, inns, residences of various NPCs, or temples dedicated to Dragos in which acolytes try to kill you. You have to explore all of them, as well as talk to various NPC passers-by, to figure out how to get through the game. Here are some of the many locations:

A town with three houses to visit.

Killing Dragos's minions in a temple. Note that my sword skill increased.

One of many villages to explore and speak to NPCs.

A monk along a roadway. His comment reminds me (not in a good way) of Ultima II.

Fighting an evil creature on a bridge.

A ruined village.

In between towns are roads along which you can pick up mushrooms and plants (all beneficial in some way), talk to NPC monks, and drink from fountains. Occasionally you get attacked by orcs or goblins, and at nighttime there's a risk of different flying monsters, which you have to shoot with your bow. I ran out of arrows at one point, which was annoying because I just had to stand there and take the damage until the critters decided to fly away.

Lacking arrows, Reis must stand passive to the Denzils' attacks.

So what makes the game so easy? A few things:

  • Early in the game, you can buy the best armor (heavy armor) for a fairly small amount of gold. This greatly reduces the damage you take and even makes you immune to some monsters.
  • There are only two key characteristics: endurance (hit points) and fatigue. You start off with a small amount of each, but there are several locations with healers who, for only a little gold, will heal you to your maximum of both. Then there are different fountains and mushrooms that will increase this maximum, but it doesn't cost any more to heal yourself after the increase. The upshot is that I started out with about 400 hit points and now I have 9,000, which I think is the game maximum.
  • Gold is absurdly easy to get. The game introduces a trading system by which you can buy goods in one town and sell them in another. (This same type of system appears in other games, including Might & Magic VII, but I think this is the first time I've seen it in a CRPG.) The variance between the selling price and the buying prices is so high that in just a few trips between nearby towns, you can have the maximum gold in the game.
  • The only characteristics to improve are strength and sword skill. Sword skill improves more-or-less automatically as you fight. Strength required me to visit one location to train and up my maximum "potential strength" and then another location to up my actual strength. Still wasn't too hard.
The game got easier once I increased my STRENGTH!

  • Once you up your strength and buy a better weapon to go with it, most enemies--at least the ones in Deloria--die in just a couple hits.

There are a few annoyances in the game, including the aforementioned flying monsters, plus the fact that every time you save, the game quits. Every fourth or fifth time you visit a store, you get pocket-picked for some of your gold, and this is one of many games of this era that requires you to keep a food supply. Visiting the towns is an annoyingly long process of watching your little character march across the screen as he enters the village and goes from house to house.

And then there's poison. God, how I hate poison, and every damned CRPG not only has to include it but also make it horrifically deadly. Was Wizardry the first? In that game, there were many ways to get poisoned, including different creatures and chest traps that your thief always sucked at disarming. Getting poisoned meant losing hit points every step, and until a fairly high level you don't have a cure spell. The same is true in Ultima IV: step into a marsh or encounter a poison trap early in the game, and you might as well just restart. In the Gold Box D&D games, getting poisoned means instant death unless you have a level 4 "neutralize poison" spell.

$&^#*$ poison.

Rings of Zilfin is full of pools along the roads, some of which help you by increasing your endurance or fatigue, but at least one out of every three is a poisoned pool, which immediately reduces your fatigue and endurance to 0, which means you die the next time you take any damage. A plant called an Iola will cure you, but these are exceedingly rare. Essentially, you cannot risk drinking from a pool unless you have an Iola, and once you find an Iola, you use it again almost immediately. Man, I wish CRPGs would just ditch poison.

All right. Back to the game. In the first third of it, in addition to increasing my stats as described above, I had to find a wizard named Eklun who taught me level 1 magic (there are only three levels), although I frankly didn't find any of the spells very useful.

I visited a castle where the denizens told me that King Rolan had been kidnapped by Dragos and was probably being tortured for his knowledge of the second Ring of Zilfin. They sent me on to the next kingdom, Begonia, to get more information on his possible whereabouts.

Entering the next kingdom involved battling my way through a mountain pass. There were a lot of flying creatures in the pass, but nothing I couldn't handle.

I can't exactly recommend Rings of Zilfin, but it's definitely an undemanding game. I'm going to go ahead and finish it, mostly because I haven't finished one since Might & Magic and I'm too busy with work to learn a new game from the beginning right now. I'll let you know if it gets more difficult or more interesting.


Just a quick administrative note: I track the number of visitors to this site using Google Analytics, which also tells me where y'all or from and what brought you to my site. I got a spike earlier this month when a user named zzajin posted a link to my blog on a message board at RPGWatch.

I must say I'm amused by the discussion that followed, with some posters calling me things like "beyond stupid," "naive," and possessed of a "mental disorder." (To be fair, there were some nice comments, too.) But I did want to make a few things clear:

1. I do not have children. I don't know where anyone got this idea. If I did, I don't think I would be able to maintain this blog.

2. I don't care if I ever "finish" the list. The point of this project is not to reach the "end," close the blog, and mark it off my "to do" list. The point (for me) is to achieve something moderately productive while simultaneously satiating my addiction. Maintaining this blog--spending time on something that people like to read--is a tangible, positive outcome from something that would otherwise just be an exercise in self-indulgence.

3. No matter how long I go between entries, I'm in no danger of quitting. I have a lot of professional commitments and I travel a lot, so occasionally I can't play games or post for a long time, but no matter how long I go, I will always be back--at least, as long as "blogging" exists as a technology.

Thanks to everyone who reads and comments--you give me a reason to keep at it.


  1. Long post -> Great read! I always was curious about that game and it really seems to be as simple as reviewers wrote back then.

    Interestingly, the original Apple II version uses The Graphics Magician to draw the graphics (don't know if the conversions use it, too).
    This early games middleware was commonly used for drawing more or less still pictures for graphics adventures which may explain why the world isn't overly detailed.
    It was extremely popular at the time as the companies/authors didn't need to pay royalties...

    The monk statement "SSI Forever!" is possibly the worst I've ever seen in a game. Things like that break the game immersion immediately and thoroughly. What to expect next? "Go Eagles!" or "Slap that biatch!"?

  2. It really surprises me when people choose to be so negative. It had never occurred to me that you may have children, and if you had, I didn't imagine you were ignoring them to maintain this blog. Such is the danger of having anything with a bit of popularity...someone is always going to have to try and knock it down. Keep up the good work!

  3. Calibrator: you just gave me an idea for a "special topic" post down the road: breaking the fourth wall. "Ultima II" is surely the worst offender, but there are lots of other little examples from throughout CRPG history. Next time I find a game that does this particularly egregiously, I'll write an entry about it.

  4. Breaking the fourth wall can work well sometimes, though.

    "Bondari reloads," anyone?

  5. Hey, you can't please everyone. Personally, I love your posts.

    Regarding poison, I'm sure it seems logical to game developers, but I don't think it works in practice. Either it's deadly, if you don't know a "cure poison" spell or have a potion, or it's completely inconsequential, if you do.

    No matter what, I don't see how you could make poison FUN. Well, maybe if you know about the poison ahead of time and must find a clever way to avoid it? In that case, you'd never actually BE poisoned. It would just be an obstacle to be overcome.

  6. Regarding poison, I think the problem is that it is over-used. I think there are probably some interesting ways to use the concept of poison, like if rather than doing damage it limited actions. Or it could be a plot device, your character defeats the Mid-Boss, but is poisoned during the fight, now He/She has a limited amount of time to quest for the cure before [consequence] happens!

  7. WCG: You summarized my basic problem with poision perfectly: "Either it's deadly, if you don't know a 'cure poison' spell, or it's completely inconsequential, if you do." Thus, Ethan's suggestion of having poison limit actions is a good one. In D&D games based on the 3rd edition, like Icewind Dale II and Neverwinter Nights, I think that's what poisoning does: it saps your statistics and makes you weaker, but it doesn't affect your hit points or kill you. This makes it more interesting and challenging.

  8. |{P}|sez:
    The graphics for this game remind me of those calculator games that were getting big back then, though probably modified for a PC release.

    You can pretty much draw a line in the sand after 1985 with graphics getting better as proven by the Nintendo game system release. Much better graphics after that, though by then I had given up on computers and games (except for some brief trips to the Arcade at the mall) and taken up skateboarding.

    Anything with a "stick man" is probably a calculator game, which makes me wonder, where were the beeper/pager games?

    Also, do you plan to play all the calculator RPGs too? There's probably not that many...

  9. No, only games that had a DOS/PC release.

  10. Breaking the fourth wall:
    in BG the all so great pantaloons. to get the last one in Throne of bhaal? you need to make a deal with the young adventure party who then try to kill you and gets destroyed. Then loads their game and this time goes for the peaceful solution.

  11. Ha! I remember that! I loved that little bit. Breaking the fourth wall is forgivable when done with wit and when not done too often.

  12. Also liked the idea you have to carry and import all the pantaloons throughout the games.

  13. I just skimmed over the forum thread you linked to. It's funny how 'the friendly bashing of a fellow nerd' stopped after you bothered the leave a few comments back then. It never ceases to amaze me how judgmental online people can get about someone's life or motives.

    1. It was the first time I'd seen my blog referenced on another RPG site, and I was probably a little too sensitive. I've had to develop a much thicker skin since then.

  14. I don't know if it has been mentioned, but Rings of Zilfin was made by the same guy who made the Magic Candle games.
    Now that I have actually played Magic Candle I can see the similarities.

  15. I think that poison can work quite well, as long as it's used as a damage-over-time (DOT). Cure works instantly, otherwise you have a 10-30% change (depending on constitution) each turn for the poison to wear off. It might kill you, but it's not automatic death.

    1. I've seen a number of good approaches to poison/disease:

      ADoM uses a relatively slow DoT for poison, you can usually get to a healer or heal yourself fast enough to survive one hit worth of poison, posion stacks though, so while the first posion hit might be irritating, successive get more and more deadly.

      Another approach, which ADoM uses for 'sickness' is reducing your max health till the sickness is healed.

      Another approach is having poison remove benefits of 'resting'

    2. I agree that these are better systems. My objection to poison is mostly about the instant or extremely rapid deaths that occur in games like Wizardry, Ultima IV, and the Gold Box titles.

      Fallout's radiation sickness is kind of like "poison," but well done in that you suffer negative effects without instantly keeling over.

    3. Most of the game I played have had poison do minimal damage over time, so I do not find it vmuch of a problem. What I hate is confusion: It distorts your controls and causes your characters to kill each other, leading to death through no fault of your own.

    4. Might and magic II (at least the msx version) made poisoned characters to lose half of their health every time the party rested. It was doable for early adventures without cure poison. Would just have to spend more first aid spells.


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