Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Game 132: Dungeons of Daggorath (1982)

"Daggorath," like every other bloody thing in this genre, comes from Tolkien. I guess it means "battles" in Elvish.

Dungeons of Daggorath
United States
DynaMicro (developer); Tandy (publisher)
Released 1982 for TRS-80 Color Computer
Date Started: 27 December 2013
Date Ended: 12 January 2014
Total Hours: 16 
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: 22
Ranking at Time of Posting: 35/131 (27%)
Ranking at Game #456: 172/456 (38%)

Irene has never been much of a CRPG enthusiast, but when she was a girl, her parents took her to Radio Shack for her birthday and said she could pick out anything she wanted. She chose a game to play on her father's TRS-80 Color Computer. Over a decade later, once she realized she had inadvertently married a CRPG Addict, she asked me if I knew it. She couldn't remember the name.

"You went through this dungeon, and you could hear monsters growling at you nearby. Sometimes they'd come up behind you, or you'd hear them through a door. You had this constantly-thumping heartbeat and it would get faster and faster when you fought, and if it got too fast, the screen would fade out and you'd die. It was really scary. I used to shriek while I was playing it."

It didn't sound familiar, and there was no Google, Wikipedia, or MobyGames at the time, so we left it a mystery. Years later, I remembered the conversation and did a search for the appropriate terms. She recognized the title right away.  We downloaded it and started playing it with the computer attached to the TV, and boy was it an experience.

Her: "Can't you hear that?! He's coming for you! Go to the end of that corridor and turn around! Turn around! Oh, my god, it's getting louder!"

Me: "Okay, just calm d--"

Her: "There he is! Hit him! Hit him! Your heart is getting faster! Run away! Run away! Oh, you're going to die!" [Dives under a blanket]

This type of hair-raising, blood-rushing, frenetic, visceral action is rare in CRPGs in general, and particularly rare in 1982. It is the most notable achievement of Dungeons of Daggorath, which might be the first game to combine tile-based movement with real-time action--five years before Dungeon Master would make this dynamic famous.

A typical Daggorath screenshot. I'm standing in front of an up ladder on Level 3. An armored knight--a very tough enemy--occupies my square. The floor is strewn with items--a torch, a shield, and a sword. I'm holding  a bronze shield in my left hand and an iron sword in my right. My opponent is wasting time picking up items on the floor, so I'm trying to land as many attacks with my right hand (hence the "A R") as possible.

There isn't very much to the game, but what it does, it does well. The player navigates a five-level dungeon with a goal to ultimately kill an ancient wizard who has recently returned to power and is threatening a nearby peaceful village. The graphics are all wireframe, not dissimilar to Akalabeth from a couple years earlier.

The game uses a text-based interface in which you type commands like MOVE, TURN, ATTACK, USE, and STOW. Most of the commands, other than movement, apply to the RIGHT or LEFT hands. So to get ready at the beginning of the game by taking your wooden sword from your backpack and putting it in your right hand, you'd use "PULL RIGHT WOODEN SWORD." To use this sword to then attack a creature, it's "ATTACK RIGHT." Fortunately, the game allows for some abbreviations. Each word need only have enough letters to distinguish a unique command or object, and you don't need to specify item descriptions if you only have one of them. So instead of "PULL RIGHT WOODEN SWORD," you can just type "P R SW." Just "M" is enough to execute forward movements, and "T R," "T L," and "T A" are enough to turn right, turn left, and turn around. These abbreviations are important because everything's happening in real time, and you don't want to be accidentally typing "ATTCK" when you go to attack a monster. Even with the abbreviations, I often get tripped up by the game not reading the SPACE bar in between commands. "AR" accomplishes nothing.

The opening sequence of commands is always the same: pull the torch from the backpack into your left hand; pull the sword from the backpack into your right hand; use the torch. I started with a snake right in front of me, so I immediately begin attacking with the weapon in my right hand.

The persistent heartbeat is perhaps the most memorable aspect of the game. It serves as both a health meter and a fatigue meter, but you never see a numeric value and you have to listen to gauge your overall health. There's no playing this game with the sound off. When you're just at rest, not attacking anything or moving, your heart plugs along at a healthy 80 beats per minute, but move forward five times quickly, and suddenly you're up to 140 beats per minute. Attacking a creature--or getting hit by one--might increase the rate 10 or 20 percent. Exert yourself too much and you find yourself in uncontrollable fibrillation, followed by unconsciousness or death.

The speed at which you enter commands makes a huge difference in your heart rate. If you plan to walk down a hallway of five squares, waiting a couple seconds between each "M" gets you to the end with a relatively sedate pulse. If you enter those commands in quick succession, it's like you just sprinted down the hall. (This is true early in the game, at least. By the end, you've developed enough that movement isn't much of an issue.)

The limited mechanics in the game support a surprising number of combat tactics--tactics you must adopt to survive, since most enemies are far more powerful than you, and simply standing in front of them, exchanging blows, is suicide. Some of these tactics I figured out on my own, others I learned from spoilers. These include:

1. Carrying a bunch of extra inventory items, dropping them in a square, and waiting. When a monster arrives, he will reliably use round after round to pick up your dropped items instead of attacking. He'll only attack when there are no more items on the floor. You can use this time to land plenty of your own attacks, hopefully killing him before the inventory disappears. (Some monsters pick up equipment very rapidly, though, making this tactic impossible for them.) When he dies, all the items get strewn on the floor again, and the process repeats. Like the later Dungeon Master, you can fight from the inventory screen, making this process a little easier.

Attacking from the inventory screen while the "!CREATURE!" wastes time picking up the items on the floor. Levels 2 and 4 reverse the black and white in the images.

2. Hit and run tactics. This requires careful timing and fast typing. You wait for the enemy to land in your square and ATTACK just as he arrives. Then, before he can land his own blow, you MOVE ahead a square or two, wait, and repeat. It's difficult to get the timing right, and inevitably I screw it up if I have to do it more than six or seven times in a row. There are some monsters for which one screw-up means a reload. This tactic is also tough when there are a lot of enemies in the area.

3. Adopting a "pet." There are a few monsters whose attacks essentially do nothing to you, even on Level 1. Since only one monster will occupy a square at a time, you can stand in their squares and take a rest break between killing tougher monsters. If you combine this with hit and run--leave the "pet" square, attack the enemy, retreat to the pet--you'll be relatively safe. You can drag the pet around with you by just moving slow and allowing him to catch up.

These monsters are lined up to attack, but they can't as long as the spider is in my square.

You can't afford to stay mellow and take things too slow in between combats. Taking long breaks between movements may keep your heart rate down, but a) enemies still move and will happily chase you down, and b) there are a limited supply of torches in the dungeon, and you're pretty well screwed if you run out.

A couple of other mechanics make Daggorath memorable. First, you hear enemies when they're nearby. Each makes a unique sound: a staticky noise for vipers (I think it's supposed to simulate rattling), a kind-of thudding sounds for stone giants, a squeaking for spiders. These sounds grow louder as the creature gets closer to your position, a dynamic responsible for a lot of the game's tension. Second, the torch effects are fairly advanced for a game with wireframe graphics. There are three types of torches, each with different brightness levels, each illuminating a different number of squares ahead of you. Broken lines effectively denote partially-illuminated squares. "Dark" squares are denoted with lines of sparse dots. As the torch burns on, it loses its illumination power, and more of the lines become dotted. It's an impressive effect given the relative paucity of graphics in the first place.

The world goes dark as my torch runs out. Or maybe I'm dying. I forget which.

As you explore the dungeon, you find weapon and item upgrades, including swords, shields, rings, and scrolls. To enjoy the full benefits of an item, you first have to REVEAL it, a command whose success depends on your level. Even after magic items are revealed, you have to use the INCANT command to release their power.

My late-game inventory. Note that I've just used the INCANT command to turn my Ring of Joule to an Energy Ring. Good to know that James Prescott Joule exists in this medieval fantasy kingdom.

Slaying enemies promotes a steady but invisible increase in the player's level. You start to notice that you don't become quite as winded from movement and attacks, and you can take on tougher enemies. REVEAL starts to work move often. But you never find out a specific level number, experience point number, or hit point total. Playing this game is thus much more of a sensory experience than a cold assessment of mathematics. The screen shots really don't do it justice; I recommend you check out one of the YouTube videos to get a full sense of the game.

A downside to Dungeons of Daggorath is that the game is completely deterministic and rather unforgiving of mistakes. Each level has the same monsters, and same items, every time you play. You always find a Ring of Vulcan on the first level and a Ring of Rhime on the second. Each has exactly three charges. You need them for a "fake" wizard that appears on Level 3, so if you blow them attacking other creatures, you probably won't be able to progress in the game.

The only ability you have to "mix it up" is to return to Level 1 from Level 2 or to Level 2 from Level 3. In either case, the game punishes you for backtracking by throwing very difficult monsters at you--monsters that might take 40-50 hits to kill, and that might kill you in a single hit. Even using the tactics above, it's hard to land 30-40 blows in a row without making a mistake. Still, if you can do it, killing these additional monsters significantly increases your power and better equips you to handle the lower levels. It's fun to watch your power grow--to see monsters that used to take 20 hits fall in 15, then 10, then 5, then 2.

These demon things start to appear if you backtrack. They're crazy hard. I died taking this screenshot.

Dying in Daggorath is a memorable experience. It can happen from enemy's blows, attacking too quickly, or even just running down a corridor too fast. Your heartbeat gets faster and faster and suddenly the world fades. About half the time this happens, you only fall unconscious, and after a few seconds, the world comes back into focus. Often, there's an enemy standing in front of you when this happens, and he immediately pounds you back into a coma. Regardless, it's a wonderfully tense period in which you're wondering if you've died or if you'll shake it off and live to fight a little longer.

I died before taking this screenshot.

My wife's reaction to this game might be a little extreme, but I allow that it's pretty crazy. My own pulse often matches my character's, and if the game featured permadeath, I think it might have been responsible for at least a few legitimate heart attacks. Fortunately, you can save and reload anywhere, even in the middle of combat, which takes a lot of the edge off. I recognize that saving and reloading was not a trivial process in 1982, however, and the type of "save-scumming" I did to win the game wouldn't have been possible, or would have taken a lot longer, with tape drives.

Irene and I had played quite a bit of the game back in 2011, and I was going to offer a posting on it then, but the game kept crashing my computer (the computer I had at the time had some kind of persistent video problem; Netflix often crashed it, too). I have to confess that we didn't follow my normal rules, and we quite liberally looked at spoilers. Thus, I went into this recent session knowing exactly what I needed to do to beat the game. Knowing it would take a while, I started several weeks ago, and the timing worked out well.

My map of Level 1.

I started to map the 32 x 32 levels, but I ultimately realized it was unnecessary. There are no items or special encounters to find by exploring every corner of the map, and you can kill almost every monster on a level by just finding a central area and waiting for them to come to you. Also, on Level 2, you find a couple of "Vision Scrolls" that provide an automap.

The game's automap of Level 2.

The purpose of the first two levels is simply to collect all the valuable items--particularly two solar torches, an iron sword, and the two magic rings--and to kill all the monsters to develop your character. On Level 3, you face tougher monsters and a "fake" version of the wizard. Killing him is necessary to progress to Level 4, but it's not easy. He only falls to magic attacks--specifically, the rings--and if you're not a high enough level when you encounter him, you can burn through both rings without killing him. Oh, and he's capable of killing you in one blow, so you can't let him get an attack in. Also, he doesn't pick up items like the other monsters, so that tactic doesn't work.

Waiting until the wizard is in your square before incanting your ring is suicide. I died taking this screenshot.

The rings are an odd game element. When you find them and REVEAL them, they have names like "Ring of Vulcan," "Ring of Rhime," and "Ring of Joule." Each has three charges, but before you can use their magical powers, you have to INCANT a magic word. The manual is vague about this process and doesn't give you the magic words; it was only through spoilers that I understood that INCANT FIRE activates the Ring of Vulcan and INCANT ICE turns on the Ring of Rhime. I mean, it makes sense given their names, once you know the theme, but it's still pretty tough for the novice player to figure out.

Level 3 also features scorpions, which may make my "Most Annoying RPG Enemies" list. You can't see them with the pine (lowest level) torch. If they're in your square, you can see them with a lunar torch. Only the two solar torches allow you to see them coming at a distance. If they get into your square and have a chance to attack, they kill you in one hit. I must have reloaded 30 times because of these bastards.

You get automatically teleported to Level 4 when you kill the fake version of the wizard, and you're stripped of all items except what you were carrying in your hands at the time. I found this level to be the most difficult, as it's loaded with tough monsters, and hard to find a place to escape and rest, or even find a break long enough to try any of the standard combat tactics. There was a lot of reloading for me on this level. When the dust clears, you have an Elvish Sword, a Mithril Shield, a "Joule Ring" (responds to INCANT ENERGY), and a "Thews" potion (increases strength). It's time to take on the wizard.

An absurd number of enemies lined up upon my arrival to Level 4. Note all the scorpions. I died taking this screenshot.

Level 5 was just as hard for me as Level 4. The improved sword was balanced by the fact that the sword takes a lot more energy to swing. Like his fake counterpart on Level 3, the wizard can easily kill you in one hit. It took me about four hours of continuous play (and lots of reloads) to clear out the ancillary monsters and finally deal with the wizard in a clear corridor. (The "pet" approach would have been a good idea here, but it was late and I wasn't thinking well.)

Duking it out with the wizard. I died taking this screenshot.

I had to blast him three times with my Energy Ring, retreating and waiting a long time in between blows; the ring really increases your heart rate. Then, I adopted the hit-and-run tactic to strike at him about 20 times with my Elvish Sword. He killed me a lot during this process. I started to despair that he'd ever die, so it was a great relief when he finally disappeared. Killing him somehow emptied my inventory, but he left behind a ring which, when REVEALED, was called the "Supreme Ring."

Having a good vocabulary is vital to the endgame.

The walkthrough we had consulted didn't reveal the incantation for this ring, only that it was some synonym for "supreme." I went to and tried all the options before hitting it with (FINAL). At that point, the screen faded and presented me with this:

The implication seems to be that I have become the new wizard of Daggorath. Note that my robe has stars while my predecessor's had a crescent moon.

Daggorath was developed by DynaMicro, a small San Diego partnership between Douglas J. Morgan and Phillip C. Landmeier. Landmeier's wife, April, apparently designed the graphics for the monsters, and a programmer named Keith Kiyohara worked on some of the code. It was published by Tandy as a proprietary, flagship game for the TRS-80 Color Computer. I tried to get a Color Computer emulator working, but I couldn't seem to get the "save" function to work in any of the three that I tried, and none offered save states. Rather than just keep screwing with it, I decided to play the PC port by Richard Hunerlach. I'm always slightly reluctant to play fan ports, since you never know how much they diverge from the original, but having played a little on both the emulator and the port, I think Hunerlach re-created it faithfully.

Louis Jordan, the host of a fan site for Daggorath, contacted both Morgan and Kiyohara about 12 years ago and asked them a few questions on the game. Following this, Morgan granted an open license to reproduce the game to anyone who wanted to.

Daggorath seems to be a one-hit wonder for the entire team. Morgan, the Landmeiers, and Kiyohara aren't credited on any other games--each seems to have gone on to other computer-industry jobs. The game is one of the few released solely for the TRS-80 Color Computer. Another on this small list is its putative sequel, 1988's Castle of Tharoggad (it means "eslttab" in Elvish), created with the involvement of none of the original developers. It replaces the command line interface with an icon interface but otherwise features similar gameplay.

The buzz on Tharoggad seems to be mostly negative, partly because of its awful graphics and its absurd "save" feature which emulated primitive console games by giving you four passwords, encoded with enough information to restore your position, rather than a true save. I have reluctantly added it to my 1988 list.

A snake waiting behind a knight creates an unfortunate composite.

I finished Dungeons of Daggorath in a 4-hour push the other night. It was almost hypnotic--the constant sequence of moving, attacking, moving, saving, frequent reloading, all with the headphones pressed over my ears so I could keep track of monster positions and my own heartbeat. When I got the winning screenshot and took the headphones off, the silence of my house at night was crushing. My hands hurt, my mouth was dry, and I was developing what would soon become a blinding headache. I couldn't believe what time the clock was showing me. I can't remember the last time I was so completely absorbed by a game, and that Daggorath could do that with 1982 technology is amazing. I can easily see why the game has such a devoted following 30 years later.

Nonetheless, playing the game is not an altogether pleasant experience, and the game is not a great RPG specifically. It lacks a strong sense of a game world, NPCs, and an economy. There is no character creation--not even a name--and though I liked the "invisible" character development, the lack of attributes beyond strength/health leaves little to develop. On my standard GIMLET scale, it does okay in the areas of combat tactics, sound, and overall gameplay, but even with a bonus of 3 points for its original elements, it ends up with a measly final score of 22. With apologies to legions of Daggorath fans, I'm good with that. This game might be the most memorable game of the early 1980s, but I'm having a hard time saying I "liked" it, and I don't feel any desire to play it again, or any other game like it, any time soon.
Unfortunately, I'm going to have to: Irene is very upset that I won the game without her. Sigh. PULL R SWORD. PULL L TORCH. USE L.


  1. The strategy game Populous did a similar heartbeat thing and it was very creepy and absorbing.
    A TRS computer mioght make a good present for Irene, everytime I see a ZX Spectrum with rubber keys I get a nostalgia blast.
    Judging by the last picture in this post we have dragged you down to our level of humor...good!

  2. BTW the attacking sound effect sounds hyper realistic, most 8-bit computers just make beep noises.

  3. Fascinating. I had heard the title of this game before, but had no clue it was so incredibly unique for its time period.

    If I understood correctly, your health auto-replenishes with time to rest. This was considered an "innovative" feature when it was introduced in the first (or second?) Call of Duty game. It's now almost a gold standard with first person shooters. But perhaps Dungeons of Daggorath is really the first to do it!

    1. I believe it was Halo, actually. Interesting this idea was tried so long ago and then forgotten.

    2. I never really thought of health slowly replenishing being all that groundbreaking before, but now that you mention it I'm having a lot of trouble thinking of other examples.

    3. Wasn't this also used in Wasteland and a bunch of other games you played where you just sit there and press esc to regen health verrrrry slooooooowlllllyyyy? Maybe it was limited or am I just mis-remembering?

    4. Yes. Of course, they exist. The just weren't coming to mind at the time.

      Against any sense, reason, or responsibility, I recently bought Fallout 3 and have been messing with it. The lack of health regeneration after playing Skyrim is actually a bit odd. It imparts a level of tactics and strategy that Skyrim just doesn't have.

    5. Are you liking it?

      If you do I found New vegas seems to be far superior. Specially relating to setting and characters, gameplay is mostly the same with a few tweaks.

    6. Chet: I have a list of some pretty good mods, both graphics and otherwise, if you are interested.

    7. I bought it for my Xbox, so no mods.

      I haven't been able to get far enough into the game to determine whether I really like it. I have a lot more trouble navigating and FINDING things than in other games with similar interfaces, and it's hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is. It might be that, in an attempt to create such a bleak landscape, they didn't put enough variances into the colors, which plays havoc with my colorblindness.

      In any event, I don't have enough time to do my work, play games for this blog, and play other games on my Xbox. I don't know why I bought it.

    8. I say, if you could tune in the old 50's tunes while playing, it might make some romantic moments with Irene! Y'know, to make up for that "Winning-Alone" thing?

    9. Oh, and she could help you spot the stuff you might miss due to your color-blindness. There's really some shit-load of stuff in FO3 and NO:NV to scavenge/salvage.

    10. Yeah, you really don't want the Xbox version of any Bethesda game. They are so buggy you need the command line just to fix things that break (plot critical NPCs going missing, for example).

      Also, if you had that, you could install something like Fellout that would remove the green tinge from everything, which would probably help you tell items from one another.

    11. I'm sure I'll do that when I play the PC version. There are simply some games that I prefer to play from the comfort of my couch, though, and I'm sure I'll continue to buy some games for the Xbox.

    12. That is why so many people are exited about the steam box. I agree, for a lot of games the couch is a nicer place to play them, and more social. Anyway, Steam is building a line of computers and controllers designed to take the living room away from the consoles.

    13. I do have a computer hooked up to my television, but most PC games just aren't optimized for that distance, and even a very large screen doesn't compensate. I tried to play The Witcher recently on it, but I just couldn't read the text. I read some text about the Steam Machine, but I didn't quite get whether it would compensate for these problems.

    14. You can usually edit the FOV settings to fix this. (TVs usually use 90, whereas PC should be closer to 110)

      With text size though, I know what you mean. I have to sit quite close to the TV. I do enjoy the ability to sit back and be around people though (or did when I lived with my family, before moving to the other coast).

  4. Thanks for more slogging through games of yore :)

  5. I was going to insist that "supreme" cannot mean (spoiler, I guess?), but the OED claims that it can in an obsolete sense. However, when used this way, it always carries the connotation of death, not victory. So it still doesn't make any sense.

    1. The ring is also called "The Ring of Endings" by the manual, which I guess is another clue.

  6. I must say, I'm surprised (and a little impressed) that you enjoyed this game as much as you did. GIMLET score notwithstanding, the *tone* of your post says you enjoyed this a little more than you'd like to admit.

    This was my first CRPG, back when it was brand-spankin' new, and I loved it, but not many of my friends did. It's easy to dislike many of its innovations for being different, which in almost every case also made it more difficult. I loved not knowing how many hit points I had left, just that my heart was beating like a madman's...and so was the one on the screen.

    1. Admired it, got caught up in it, not quite "enjoyed" it.

  7. I have vague memories of this game or one using very similar mechanics, but I don't think my family ever owned a TRS. Was this ever replicated in any of the BBS games?

    Also for a RPG first, is this the first game that was unplayable for deaf people?

    1. Not completely unplayable. Technically, the image of the heartbeat also speeds up, and I suppose you could just turn around a lot to look for monsters coming. *I* was unable to play it effectively without sound, but I would imagine someone who is hearing-impaired is more sensitive to subtle visual cues.

    2. I must have missed where you said there is an image of the heartbeat.

  8. Not that I played the game myself, but judging from what I've read about this game I almost expected you to write more than one entry about this game as the game seemed to be rather innovative and important.
    So the game has one ring to rule them all. And the other rings, did they add up to nine?
    I guess the game is basically a dungeon crawler with almost (?) non-existent character progression. Maybe more a first-person action game.

    1. Well, there is definite character progression, you just never see what it is. You do gain levels, your health improves (by virtue of the heart not speeding up as fast), you get stronger, so that later in the game you can kill things faster with the same weapon...but it never actually gives you any numbers. It's all very...visceral. You see the effects, not the values.

  9. One of your best posts, I think you really captured the experience of playing it, and the trouser snake image was beautiful :)

    Also, the smaller the game the greater the content per sentence. Games that take you a long time result in many passages like: "And then Lobin of Roxley bade me rescue his dromedary from the slopes of Penultima".

    That a game from 1982 used an auditory hit point/stamina system is stunning. That's exactly the sort of immersion and elegance of design that many high level game developers aspire to.

    1. Thanks. I've noticed the same thing: I elide a lot when I play long games.

  10. I find it amusing that the entire back story was that the wizard dared you.

  11. I wonder how much Dungeon Master was inspired by this game? It sounds a bit like a proto-DM, but without the puzzles.

  12. Other game that used sounds indicating an enemy was Aliens II, the sound was your radars proximity alert from the film and gave an eerie wwwwwhhhhwwwwwwwwwwwwwww ... when ever there was an alien in the room with you.
    Trick was that "turning" consumed fatigue and once you had turned enough your cursor moved excruciatingly slow while alien was creeping towards you with proximity radar screaming louder and louder.

    We played the game in the dark as kids for some extra thrills, oh and Burke (the corporate slime ball) went always first with guns blazing and then we left him to die when his ammo ran out preferably with an alien in the room. :D
    Sometimes we first watched the film first to get the mood going and off we went to shoot some aliens.

    1. This one: :)

    2. There is a remake of this game called LV-426:

      It seems to be pretty faithful to the original and is just as hard...

    3. I made it to attack wave 5 in the original and then all the lights went out ... yes, even from "safe level" or room 001.
      New version has flash light (unlike in the original) for seeing in the dark in original you had to shoot walls to see briefly in the dark from a muzzle flash ... (combine this with a chronic lack of ammunition for horror recipe).
      According to You Tube comments game was shipped with a paper map and if you shot all the goo from the generator room and then shot the lock leading to room, lights supposedly stayed on in attack wave 5 but I was usually lucky to survive even as far as attack wave 3 with any ammo left.

  13. The best thing about playing your next few games is that Ultima 6 is coming. That should be something to look forward to! Almost too bad Escape from Mt. Drash is 1983 because that could have been a fun double-header.

    Weirdly, I've never played 6. As a kid, I only played 1, 3, 4, 7, 7.5, 8, and UU1. I recently beat M&M1 and am debating whether to tackle M&M2 next, another gold box game (CoK or Blades, probably), or do Ultima 3.

  14. Atually, it's "Dagor" in tolkienese elvish. Most battles in the Silmarillion are called Dagor-this, Dagor-that.

    1. My understanding is that "dagorath" is the plural--"battles."

    2. It's not that simple for example 'alar' 'shining' becomes "Dagor Aglareb' 'shining battle'.

      'anga' 'iron' has a plural form 'engrin' and 'agrem' meaning 'made of iron'.
      Quenya like Finnish and Hungary is an agglutinative language.
      Also sindar and noldor have significant differences in spelling and 'dagor' is a noldorin word.

    3. This Wikipedia page seems to suggest that it is, in fact, that simple:

      "Dagor Dagorath" means "Battle of Battles"

  15. Never had this game where I'm from. This game mechanic is truly not employed enough. It should be great for an action-adventure game with light RPG elements... like a medieval Alan Wake.

  16. A buddy and I played this heavily for a while before giving up. I remember the trick about leaving stuff on the floor to grind and buff your character.. We always equipped the weapon in the left hand because we could type A L faster than A R. Wha-ching! Wha-ching! over and over...

    1. The space in the middle kept me from getting any serious speed going. If I tried to type too fast, I'd end up with " AR" or "AR " instead of "A R"

    2. Yea the space was killer, that's why Left was better for us.. on the TRS-80 keyboard, we could get about 3 attacks per second. Left hand index finger and thumb rolled from A to , right hand rolled L to Biggest thing was not getting the space before the A once we got rolling. We could kill almost anything before it got done picking up items.

      It's a good thing we gave up though, I don't think even speed-typing would have gotten us through the lower levels. We also lacked a tape drive so no saving. Still a great game, only game worth remembering for the ol' Trash-80 :)

    3. Guess we can't use brackets... that'a A to space and L to enter above.

    4. Lol I too went the route of A space L because I could type it faster. We never had a tape drive either, so it was play until you died. The TRS 80 lived in a closet at my parent's house for 20+ years. One Christmas my brother and I got to talking about it, and he went and dug it out and patched a joystick directly into the keyboard so when you spun it in circles it typed A space L faster than the hand of God himself. I moved, he fought, and we finally won that game.

    5. haha, that wizard never expected a joystick!

    6. That was a brilliant solution. I suppose you could create a keyboard shortcut in Windows to help you out, too.

      For those who haven't played the game, though, we should emphasize that for 75% of it (at least), being able to attack more rapidly wouldn't help, because multiple attacks in a row increase your heart rate just as bad as getting hit by enemies. Only late in the game have you leveled-up enough stamina where such speed would really make a difference.

    7. Right, it was a big help really for 3 reasons I think. all related. Late in the game with the wizards and critters that don't pick things up, it allowed us to do "drive by's" as I could move *while* he attacked. With some creative soldering he had made the joystick's "Up-right-down-left" into "A-space-L-enter", so unless he got positively mad with the joystick, it was impossible to get a typo in there that would lead to your doom. And as you know, in the late game, typos lead to your doom.

  17. I'm thoroughly impressed by this game. I'm not a fan of RPGs that require a lot of reloading, but the mechanics sound fantastic. Ahh, if I only had more time this would be a fun one to remake / update. I've been playing around with Arduinos lately and got a monitor/speaker output shield for Christmas. Perhaps at some point I'll make a clone of this game for the Arduino, seems very appropriate! Next month I'm busy building a deck though. :-)

    I died writing this comment.

  18. Ref Irene being upset that you won the game without her, Lori and I had a similar experience when we first played Dungeon Master. We played it with a friend, Kennita Watson, who could only come over once a week or so. We had gotten stuck on the endgame due to a bug that locked up the game if we made too many stasis squares.

    We had decided that we would only play the game together, but I couldn't wait. I kept at it, finally managed to win, and took a screen shot. When I showed it to Lori - no doubt expecting her to be thrilled by my accomplishment - she instead got really angry. How dare I cheat her out of being part of the first win.

    A few years earlier, I regularly "worked late". That was when we had Rogue on the company computer, and that was the only place I could play it. Patience comes hard to CRPG addicts.

    1. Indeed. I thought she'd be happy just seeing the winning screen shots and reading my blog post. Wow, did I get that wrong.

      She used an analogy that made sense. "It's like I've wanted to go to Italy my whole life, and you want me to be happy because you went there and came back with pictures."

    2. Yeah, you had fundamentally robbed her of the chance to share a winning moment of a game from her childhood days with the man she loves.

      I'd classify that kind of man as an "S" Class Villain. XD

    3. Made Worse by the fact she knows how much you like old CRPGS and she finally found one she actually likes to play with you.

    4. Oooooh... ZING! That's gotta hurt... way below the belt.

  19. Years ago, my ex was playing some post-apocalyptic adventure game. I can't recall the name, but on the cover was a ruined city, and the character you control. I recall he was in some sort of battle suit that looked like a cross between R2D2 and a trash can. You could see his face through the visor, and I recall thinking he looked pretty clean cut for a guy after the end.

    Anyway, the intro freaked me out. Me, a horror fan. And this was with crappy old C-64 graphics. It showed the nukes going off and frying innocent people, etc. Then it went on to say how the babied of survivors had mutated into horrible creatures (cue baby in a stroller suddenly growing tentacles and attacking its mom). Crappy looking or not, that intro freaked me out for some reason, and my reaction was always like Irene's! After the intro I could watch him play no problem.

    I wish I could remember what it was called! Does anyone know?

    1. check this out:

    2. Alas, none of those I'm afraid. But thanks!

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Maybe the following?
      1. Exile
      2. Mad Max
      3. Turrican
      (Edit: Added unlikely candidate "Turrican")

      If not... time to call up your ex and ask for the title... awkwardly. XD

    5. OMFG I FOUND IT!,_5_1/4%22_Disk%29_Cosmi_-_1987_USA,_Canada_Release

      I knew it was from Cosmi, but previous searches did nothing. It's called Delta Man, which I figured it was, but again, searching revealed nothing. But now I found it.

      Thanks for your help, guys!

    6. Looks pretty interesting...

  20. Great post that really captures the immersive intensity of Daggorath, and how wildly ahead of its time it was in certain ways. Thanks for this.

  21. I didn't remember this game until the photo of the wizard came up in the death screen. This game was on demo at Radio Shack forever. I always wanted to play it, but you had to have a Radio Shack computer to do so, and HA! Like Dad was going to pay good money for THAT.

  22. There is a PC Windows port of this game here

    1. He said he played the PC port and linked to it in his article. Did you even read the article before commenting?

  23. This game inspired me to make these three songs about it: Enjoy!

  24. late to the party here.
    never completed the game on my TRS80 but was wondering if anyone had the same problem i had.

    typing "a r a r a r a r a r" etc would often create a lag, maybe a second or two later the screen would fill with all the commands you typed earlier in quick succession.

    i would often die from scorpions (? one hit creatures) as my "a r" would not process in time.

    anyone else or just me?

  25. First time poster...glad to see someone reviewing this wonderful old gem. I believe it was the first RPG I ever played on my trust CoCo2. But holy hell...was this game tough. In my later years I was one of the best gamers (RPG and other genres) in my circle of family and friends and there were very few games I couldn't complete...but this game took me a staggering 9 years to finish! I tried for a few years before giving up...and some years later I tried it again when I was in college and finally won.

    Having access to a walk-through definitely kills how challenging this game really is. Done on your own, I'd put it up there with Wizardry IV in terms of challenge...for instance I never knew about the "pet" sounds vaguely familiar but I didn't know it could be used to exploit most enemies. Playing this game blind is a nightmare...easily the most difficult desktop or console game I've ever played.

    As a kid I figured out all of the incantations...but had to use a dictionary to figure out what "Rhime" was. That heartbeat was so other game has given me the same is truly one of a kind. I never figured out how to beat the fake Wizard until my college try years later...and then the game is just so damn unforgiving. Starting in Level 4 with nothing but a ton of monsters out for your blood is beyond cruel...and when you finally get your hands on that delicious Elvish sword you saw in the soon find that even at your lowest heart rate, a good 6-8 swings is all that is needed to make you drop dead! That has got to be the most unfair thing I've ever seen in an RPG!

    So yeah...9 years is a record for me...but my one claim to fame is that I guessed the incantation of the Ring of Endings on my first try...that and seeing the end game screen made all of those years of deaths by farting blobs, cursing and childhood frustration worth it and then some. :)

    As seen below...

    A L !!!
    A L !!!

    "Oh sh.....!!!" POW! SMACK! BLAM!

    Room goes dim...

    And yet another does not return....

    AARRRGHHHH!!!! :)

    1. A player with modern equipment, an emulator, save states, and spoiler sites really can't do justice to the original experience, I agree--especially for a game as dependent on visceral stimulation as this one. Thanks for letting us know about your experience.

  26. Recently a buddy of mine recommended I read the book "Ready Player One". I highly recommend Chet and any other addicts out there give it a read (it's more fun if you don't Google it first and have no expectations going in). I won't go in to the plot, but I will say anyone who enjoys the nostalgia or just the level of detail put in to some old school games will enjoy the book.

  27. After several weeks of trying, tonight I finally beat Dungeons of Daggorath for the first time in almost 25 years, and did it on real hardware without saving. Back when I first beat it (1993?), I used the cassette save system, and I do have my tape deck and TRS-80 tapes somewhere around here -- but for whatever foolish reason I felt compelled to do a 1CC.

    I think climbing up the ladders to deliberately trigger stronger enemies is definitely the key to success, since it lets you grind enough to have more of a chance in the huge bottleneck that is Level 4. On my winning run, I killed a couple extra shield-bearing knights and a wraith that spawned on Levels 1-2. Maybe that was just enough to give me the edge I needed.

    I got lucky and got the Energy Ring from the first galdrog I killed on Level 4, and then used shots from that to kill the other three. That said, I almost ruined everything when I stupidly forgot to light my second Solar Torch right before I killed the wizard's image, so I only had ~30 min. left on my current torch when I hit Level 4.

    As it turned out, the very last enemy I fought on Level 4, a wraith, had the only Solar Torch on that floor, and my torchlight was beginning to seriously fade when I finally killed it. But the Seer Scroll -- such a godsend -- made it easy to see who was coming and prepare for the last few combats.

    Then when I hopped down to Level 5, a stone giant with a club was right there; I made him my pet (eventually to be replaced by a spider, to cut down on noise), and the rest was easy.

    I can't think of another game that's so intensely and viscerally stressful -- so much so that I can't imagine playing it is good for my health, or anyone else's. I know what you mean about "enjoyment" being a descriptor that doesn't necessarily map on to this game -- hell, it gave me more than one nightmare as a kid, and conceivably may have contributed to the panic disorder I suffered from as a teenager. But the sheer intensity of it is nonpareil, and really an amazing feat of programming and design.

    In its way, it's a masterpiece that transcends its time and hardware limitations, and is like nothing else I've ever played: and if the experience isn't entirely a pleasant one -- more akin to seeing a haunting, deeply disturbing film than a rollicking adventure -- well, how often does any game offer something that sticks with us like that? The indelible impression Daggorath leaves on those who have played it is well and truly earned, and I have to imagine the designers had to step back for a moment, awed, when they realized just what they'd come up with.

    1. Congratulations, PK, and thanks for offering such a visceral account. It really rings true with my own experience.

  28. A friend of mine recently linked me to this article, and I really enjoyed reading about your nostalgic experience with this amazing (for its time) classic CRPG that I hadn't heard of before. Thank you for writing about it!

  29. This game may look like Akalabeth but I think graphic is much better here. Mostly in creature design. I know that Akalbeth is 3 years erlier and made by one guy but enemies look very simple and well silly. Here there are much more mature and I'm impressed how much can be acoplished with just simple lines. Mayby resolution or other technical thing play major role or mayby just good graphic designer 😊

  30. This blog post is the first of yours I've read, which I found when searching for information on Daggorath. I really love your review as it aptly captures both the exhileration and frustration I faced back in 1984 when I first found the game in my cousin's computer – and that I still face when playing it today!

    When I originally found the game, I only had access to it for a couple of months, but 28 years later, I was still thinking about it and probably considered it to be my favorite gaming experience. In 2012, I finally asked the folks at GOG if they could help me identify it, and my long-awaited fix was had moments later on YouTube.

    At the time, however, I couldn't find a good way to play the game myself, and it wasn't until a few days ago that I tried again. After a 35-year wait, I'm amazed to find that I'm still SO moved by this old, graphics-lacking game!

    I guess I'm just letting you know that this review is still being read, still being enjoyed, and that at least in my case, it still worked very well to set the mood for a suicidal run in the wizard's dungeons.

  31. Thanks for making this blog post, this is one of the first ones I saw when I started getting back into Dungeons of Daggorath. So that you know, over the last few months I've been working on and just finished an online web-based port of Dungeons of Daggorath for free (open-source). It's available at - I'd love to have you try it out and see what you think!


    Nathan Byrd (cognitivegears)

  32. I loved this game as a teenager in the 1980s. It was ahead of its time.

    The reason you couldn't see the scorpions is because there are two types of light in the game, physical light and magical light. Pine torches only provide physical light which leaves secret passages and some monsters invisible. Even the other torches provide a shorter range for magical light than physical light.

  33. There a bug in the shield mechanics. Something like physical and magical damage resistance swapped. Look for a patched rom version of the game in the coco Archives.

  34. This really was my first computer game I played back in the early 80's. My friend Ben had it and we would stay up most of the night taking turns playing and saving and loading saves from a cassette player. And for giggles we would listen to the save. We were admonished repeatedly by his mother to keep the noise down when we were screaming at monsters or what we would had to do. And yes we even figured out fire and ice via a dictionary. Cheats? Pffftt. What is that...Such fond memories on a truly remarkable game for its time that should be held in higher regards for it's innovations that many do not even know this game offered.
    Thank you for your site and the memories that came flooding back to this 52 year old CRPG freak.

  35. The ending, you turning into the successor and taking up the role of the very one you were fighting up to / in the end, seems such a trope, but I haven't identified it on TVTropes. To some extent it reminds me of (ROT13) gur guveq vafgnyzrag bs Mbex, released the same year for the same platform - coincidence?


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