Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Swords of Glass: Large, Full Dungeon

This is the most difficult monster on Level 1. You can't hit him!

The more I play Swords of Glass, the more I see it as the little CRPG that could. I spent this evening mapping the first level of the dungeon, which at 25 x 25 is the largest of the square-area games I've played so far (Might & Magic was 15 x 15, Wizardry was 20 x 20, and The Bard's Tale was 22 x 22). The dungeon is chock full of monsters, treasure, and interesting encounters.

And death. I cycled through six first-level characters before I finally survived long enough to raise a few levels and thus stay alive. At each level increase, you get another pool of points that you can put into health, strength, dexterity, or intelligence. My current character has risen five times, so he's getting pretty strong. He could still die at any minute, though--see below.

At five locations on the first level, you come upon pairs of doors side-by-side with a sign in front of them posing a riddle. You have to choose which door to enter. If you choose the right one, you get a nice piece of treasure; the wrong one, you find yourself roasting alive in an inferno. Here are a couple of the riddles:

So one of the signs is true and the other is false. If the first sign is false (e.g., both rooms have treasure or both have fire), then the second can't be true, so the first sign must be true, which means it has the treasure. Now try this one:

It's been a while since I had to solve a cryptogram. Well, HIO is almost certainly THE. That means HIOQO is either THERE, THESE, or THEME. "Theme" seems unlikely, and if it's "these," that means that another word, HQAO, begins with a TS. I'm going with THERE. That means for the long word in the first and second sentences, I have TRE---RE, which can't be anything but TREASURE. And so on. The solved cryptogram reads:




It took me a while, but I got it, and a Bow +1 for my troubles. Guessing means instant death, so you have to be careful.

Other different encounters include several statues that clue you to the location of treasure and stairs, a teleporter, "dark" squares that you have to carefully navigate, gargoyles on the wall that attack you and you can't fight back, and a pit of quicksand in which you have to abandon some of your equipment to escape.

Alas, proper spelling does not.
(Note: making fun of someone else's spelling or grammar virtually guarantees that you will have a major embarrassing mistake in your own posting. I look forward to the first person who tells me what mine is.)

The monsters are difficult but not impossible, with the exception of a "wispy shape" that takes only one damage per hit, and you only hit him one out of every dozen times you try. The creatures re-spawn constantly, though, and attack you from all angles, so you have to keep turning around and making sure you're not being followed. If you espy a monster from a distance, you can try shooting it with your bow, which allows you to direct shots to the right and left, as well as straight ahead, depending on where your foe is coming from. Not even Might and Magic V, which won't come out for eight years, allows anything but straight-ahead archery.

One of many nice little touches in Swords of Glass.

You are helped in your explorations by potions and other treasure, including an enchanted map that gives you a little mini-plot of the area. Monsters don't drop treasure, but chests are plentiful and the dungeon resets when you leave, so you can keep picking up treasure from the same chests. This sounds like it's too easy, but wait a second and I'll tell you something.

All of these interesting and innovative features are balanced by a couple of frankly unforgivable design flaws having to do with traps. First, you encounter traps in the corridors with no option to search for or disarm them ahead of time. Whether you trigger the trap or not depends on your dexterity, but even if you trigger it, it remains active and waiting to snare you when you pass that way again.

Even worse, opening chests has a chance of triggering poison, paralyze, or sleep traps. Poison is annoying as usual, but you can treat it with a healing potion or a trip back to the surface. Paralysis and sleep, however, never wear off. They are the equivalent of instant death. If you trip one of these traps, you have to kill DOSBox, reload, and create a new character. [Later note: as several readers pointed out, I'm wrong about this.] If you were playing a multi-player game, your second character could heal the first, I guess, but to have such unavoidable traps in a single-player, permanent-death game is just absurd.

Kojak will be stuck here forever. Maybe that's where all the statues came from.

I never did find a manual for the game, so the only way I know anything about the main quest is from Dean Tersigni's "The Glass Shrine" page, which gives a brief summary. Apparently the ultimate goal is to get down to the eighth level and find...see if you can guess it...the Sword of Glass. Why you'd want to find this particular weapon--a weapon that sounds like it would be good for exactly one hit--I'm not sure. There's no back story about a tyrant or usurper or anything. Anyway, one of the dangers of getting your "manual" from a fan page is spoilers, and Dean's has a big one: when you finally get the Sword of Glass, the game gives you a simple "You Win!" and that's it. I wish I hadn't seen that, but now that I have, I have no problem simply envisioning such text appearing on my screen the next time my character gets paralyzed or put to sleep.

In the meantime, I'll start mapping Level 2 and see how it goes.

The massive Level 1.


  1. Found it! Right after your spelling comment, word #3:

    "If you espy a monster from a distance, you can try shooting it with your bow, which allows you to direct shots to the right and left, as well as straight ahead, depending on where your foe is coming from."


  2. Thanks for trying, man, but "espy" is a word.

  3. THANKS SOOOO much for your tip on using excel on these old games for mapping. It makes complete logical sense but ... I just never considered it. The only thing that came to my mind was old oversized line printer papers and using rulers :)

    I might even replay Bard's Tale now. **shudder** (Thank god new games have auto mapping)

  4. Hey, thanks for replaying all these classic RPGs I remember doing in my youth. Anyway, just thought you should know that you're not insta-dead after paralysis/sleep. Go to the utilities menu and "wait".

  5. Just wanted to echo Eugene's thanks... I've tried reading several "replay the classics" type blogs before, yours is one of the very few (like 2-3 at most) I've enjoyed.

    @emyln -- I kind of liked mapping from lots of text adventures & Ultima dungeons as a kid, but it didn't seem like fun in Bard's Tale for some reason.

  6. Found a new spelling error for you. In your mapping screenshot, the word thigns. =)

  7. Great blog! Thank you!
    I can't wait for Wizardry 4! :)

  8. You misspell words all the time, as well as having an occasional grammar hiccup. My guess is there are at least as many errors overall as you've had postings.

    Still, we do hold these things (games) to a higher standard than even the mighty blog post.

  9. Eugene, thanks for the note and sorry I didn't see it before my next posting auto-published. I corrected the error where I found it.

    Emyln: I don't know. I like manual mapping. I'd do it even in modern games but the non-discrete nature of the world makes it virtually impossible.

    Bleaghhh: Got me. And I can't fix that one.

  10. Never played this game and, although the graphics are hideous, the mechanics is astounding!

    By the way, "hideous sucking sounds"?

    1. I missed an opportunity for a Ross Perot/NAFTA joke.

  11. Huh? For that second riddle, aren't all three of the following possible:

    That both rooms have no treasure and no fire
    That both rooms have treasure AND fire
    That the left room has fire and the right room has treasure

    In which case, logically speaking, you shouldn't enter either room because you'd be risking instant death?

    If you wanted to phrase the riddle in way so that the left room had only fire and the right only treasure, wouldn't you need to formulate it as 'The left sign is true if there is and only is fire in the room. The right sing is true if there is and only is treasure in the room.' ?

    1. It actually turned out to be the third possibility, I think. The player is probably mentally meant to screen out the possibility that both rooms have treasure AND fire. I suppose the first could be true, but in that event there would be no danger in entering entering the right room (to check out possibility #3) and no point in entering the left room.

    2. But if anything, the wording of '*at least* one room has X' strongly suggests the possibility of there being fire in both, and then tasks the player with using logical deduction to discard that possibility. Which I wasn't able to do..

      Ah well, it's not the end of the world. I just have so little faith in my own powers of logic that I assumed the riddle was fine, and wanted to know where I screwed up. :)

    3. The signs themselves preclude the possibility of fire in both rooms. It either has to be that both signs are true or both signs are false; one can't be true and the other false, because the conditions contradict each other.

      1. If both signs are true, there is fire in the left room and treasure in the right room.

      2. If both signs are false, neither room has treasure or fire.

      Either way, it makes sense to explore the right room and not the left.

      The only way this could be dangerous is if a room could have both treasure and fire, which is logically possible but not possible given the game mechanics. Since fire means instant death, it wouldn't make sense to put treasure in the same square, as no player would ever be able to get it.


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