Sunday, June 4, 2017

Game 252: Deathlord (1987)

Independently developed; Electronic Arts (publisher)
Released in 1987 for Apple II and Commodore 64
Date Started: 3 June 2017
By 1987, computer role-playing games were showing real promise, but it was still too early in the genre's history for a game that's epically long. Up to and including 1987, the longest non-roguelike game I played was Might & Magic (1987) at 50 hours. (Roguelikes get a pass in this analysis because their difficulty imparts a "length" that has nothing to do with the scope of the game world.) It was a great game, but it wouldn't have been great with the size of Skyrim's game world. Ultima IV delighted me at 36 hours, but it knew when to quit. 

So when Deathlord promises to fill "a few hundred hours" of time, I can't help but groan. Using my standard assumptions (-40% for publisher hyperbole, cut the remainder in half for today's better efficiency, subtract another third given my experience), we might still only be looking at a 60-hour title, but even that's too long. I suppose there was no way for a developer to know this in 1987, but they hadn't come far enough in terms of content, mechanics, and world-building to justify this kind of scope. You need depth with breadth.

This is doubly true given the fact that Deathlord's authors didn't come up with anything original in the interface or game mechanics. The game is an Ultima III clone that uses Wizardry's character, combat, and permadeath systems and a Dungeons & Dragons rule backbone. Its only "originality" is to put a Japanese skin on everything. A game that truly explored Asian mythology and philosophy would be a breath of fresh air in this era, but the developers simply took the standard set of Dungeons & Dragons races, classes, and spells and either literally translated them to Japanese, created nonsense words, or didn't bother to translate them at all. As we'll later see, this hackneyed attempt at an "eastern" theme wasn't the developers' fault, but I have to play the game that was created, not the one intended.
Even the backstory is as minimalist as possible, leaving me only with the hope that it will gain some more depth as the game progresses. An "outcast wizard" has raised monstrous forces, attacked the kingdom of Kodan, and destroyed one of its cities. Monsters are even amassing in the catacombs beneath the emperor's very own castle. The emperor is offering enormous rewards of gold and land to anyone who can defeat the Deathlord. The Deathlord, meanwhile, taunts the party in the game manual, hinting that "seven words, six items, and your ineptitude prevent us from meeting."
A sign in town summons the party to the main quest.
The player creates up to 6 party members to join the expedition. These are drawn from 8 races, mostly taken from D&D: human, toshi (elf), nintoshi (half-elf), kobito (dwarf), gnome, obake (halfling), troll, and ogre. I can't find any evidence that toshi and nintoshi come from any Japanese words with related meanings, but kobito is a literal translation of "dwarf" (according to Google translate, it can also mean "child"); and obake is a monster in Japanese folklore. Only the manual's description of the race shows the latter's clear origin in halflings.

The list of classes is similar but shows a little more originality. Among them, we see senshi (fighter), kishi (paladin), ryoshi (ranger), yabajin (barbarian), yakuza (thief), ansatsusha (assassin), shisai (priest), shizen (druid), genkai (illusionist), and mahotsukai (wizard). Some of these, like mahotsukai and shisai, are quite literal translations. Other times, the game bends D&D tropes to traditional Japanese mythological classes, like ninja, samurai, and ronin.

The game uses Wizardry's character creation system in which the attributes are rolled first, and the player can then select among the classes that meet the minimum attribute requirements. Attributes are strength, constitution, intelligence, dexterity, charisma, size, and power. All but "size" follow the standard D&D mold in which 3-18 is the basic limit for humans and some non-human races might get another point or two in particular attributes. In one unique twist, if a character doesn't have high enough attribute rolls to be anything, you can make him a kosaku (peasant), who would be a challenging character to play.
This guy can be just about anything.
Character creation finishes off with a name and alignment (if the class doesn't already force a particular alignment). As with Wizardry, good and evil characters can't join the same party here. You can't have a kishi (paladin) with a ninja.

I created a "good" party consisting of:

  • Kyuboru, a male human kishi (human paladin)
  • Kebukai, a male ogre samurai
  • Poniteru, female obake yakuza (halfling thief)
  • Natsu, a female nintoshi ryoshi (half-elf ranger)
Natsu's starting attributes.
  • Kuriboshi, a male toshi mahotsukai (elf wizard)
  • Megan, a female kobito shisai (dwarf priest)
If I'd known that the group's name would appear constantly on the game window, I would have put some more thought into it.
The game starts the party on a tiled landscape somewhere in Kodan. The outdoor window displays prominently the time and the positions of the sun and moon. It uses the old Ultima tradition of disallowing visibility through mountains or dense forests. I learned quite early that there is a terrain type--I guess maybe swamp?--that you don't want to walk on, as it deals damage to the party with every step.
The opening moments.
If you're already used to Ultima, it takes a while to learn the interface. Movement is via the IJKL cluster; I keep accidentally hitting "M" to move south and finding myself in the "light torch" dialogue. Other commands, like (A)ttack, (B)oard, and (C)ast are similar, but I get tripped up a lot when I go to talk to an NPC and accidentally hit "T" (which is "give" in this game) instead of (O)rate. One interesting addition here is the ability to assign common sequences of commands to macros.

My characters started naked, so a key priority was finding a town and getting some equipment. Within a few screens, I came to a city and entered. (If there's any way to figure out the city names, I haven't discovered it.) You have to (O)rate with shopkeepers and then hit (B)uy. The game follows rules similar to D&D in terms of who can wield what, but you have to learn Japanese names, like tanto (dagger), harame-do (studded leather armor), and masakari (battle axe). You can apparently possess only one weapon and armor type at a time--picking up a new one replaces the old one--which must significantly limit the utility of the (S)ell command.
At last, a game in which bo-staffs and jo-sticks are viable choices.
An equipment store sold lock picks, torches, and holy water, and a cafeteria sold food. My characters all started with 99 food (the maximum) and it seems to deplete fairly slowly--maybe 4 units per day, and a game day lasts more than 90 minutes real-time.

The first town also introduced me to the game's approach to NPCs, which is somewhere in between Ultima III and IV. After hitting (O)rate, you have options to chat, talk, inquire, offer gold, offer an item, buy, or sell. Most NPCs respond only to "chat" and deliver a one-line comment. "Talk" is supposed to provide a more in-depth conversation with certain key NPCs; "inquire" allows you to type your own keyword, but of course you have to have learned something to ask from another NPC first. So far, with "chat" and "talk," I've learned that demons are deadly, ships get stolen, ruins are rich, there are caverns under the palace, I should "look to the North" and "find the words," and "things are tough all over."
A bit of obvious advice.
The town had a ton of locked doors. There's no "open" command in the game; either doors are already ajar or they need to be picked or forced. I didn't exhaustively explore them yet, but at least one of them took me into a sub-area where I found a bunch of treasure chests (a la Ultima III) and a vampire capable of killing my party members in one hit. I don't know if there's any alignment penalty for opening treasure chests found in secret areas.
Ultima IV taught me to be wary of situations like this.
Enemies are few and far between in the wilderness, not swarming incessantly like in Ultima I-III. The basic approach to combat is similar to Wizardry. In battle, each character acts in turn and can attack, cast a spell, use an item, flee, or try to negotiate for peace. When it comes to spellcasting, characters have a pool of magic points to spend on spells of different levels. The spells are mostly copied from D&D; for instance, mages have clear analogues to "Magic Missile" and "Sleep" at first level and "Lightning Bolt" and "Haste" at third level. Ryoshi (rangers) have shizen (druid) spells, which include clear analogues of "Entangle" and "Faerie Fire." Of course, they're all in Japanese, and as in Wizardry, you have to type the full spell name: kusamotsu for "Entangle," todo for "Magic Missile," akari for "Light," and so forth. Until I have everything memorized, the manual section with the spell names will have to be a constant companion.
In combat, my ranger successfully casts "Entangle" on some brigands.
Wandering some more in the outdoors, I found the king's castle and (without exploring it at all), marched to his throne room.
Could you maybe be more specific?
Elsewhere, I discovered a cave that briefly gave me my first experience with dungeons. They maintain the top-down interface instead of switching to first-person like Ultima. Unfortunately, the first monster that attacked me killed one of my characters instantly, so I probably need to save it for later. It's going to be tough to grind, though--I simply don't find many monsters in the outdoor environment. This makes it easier than most Ultima clones to rest and heal after battle, since both hit points and spell points recharge from just waiting or moving around.
Entering a dungeon. The terrain to the south and west of me is poisonous swamp.
The key difficulty in Deathlord comes from its permadeath system. In that, it is much like Wizardry. The game saves continually, as you transition areas, and as you enter and exit combat. A character's death is almost instantly recorded in the save file, forcing you to explore resurrection options. If the entire party dies, you can--again, just like Wizardry--call up another party to retrieve their bodies and possessions. The manual suggests that you can backup your party disk occasionally but calls this option "not the most honorable."
I didn't hesitate to reload a save state when my priest was killed instantly by a vampire.
The permadeath is easily avoided with emulator save states, of course, and I've decided to allow myself the luxury to use these while I figure out the game. Otherwise, I'll just be re-rolling a bunch of Level 1 characters the way I did in Wizardry. Once I actually find a temple to resurrect slain characters, I'll try to adhere more to the game's intended difficulty.

I hate to start a game on a negative tone, but it feels like we've already been here a dozen times, so I'm starting Deathlord already a little tired of it. I've read online that the game's approach to its emerging story and dungeon design are highlights, so I hope to feel better about it next time.


  1. The degree to which this one plagiarises Ultima, not just in gameplay but in the specific graphics used to depict elements of the world, is pretty outrageous for a commercial release with named creators who could presumably be located and sued.

    I note the publisher is (what would eventually become) EA. I have a vague memory they were the publisher for Origin in this period too, so maybe there's a disincentive to make a big deal of it? Or did that come later?

    1. EA acquired Origin in 1992.

      Deathlord was a running sore between the two companies for a long time, as Garriot considered it to be blatantly infringing. From what I understand, the paper-thin Japanese coating on this game was a very late introduction (little more than a copy-paste) intended to distance it somewhat from Ultima, which the intended Norse theming would have been much closer to.

    2. EA was Origin's distributor for some time during the 80s. Computer Gaming World did in fact report (in the Nov. 1992 issue) that Garriot was furious because of Deathlord and ended the partnership because of that.

    3. I'd figure that Origin's own pseudo-Asian Moebius might have figured into their choice of cultures to plunder when they got the call to reskin the game.

  2. As I've probably mentioned before, this game and Quarterstaff have been my most anticipated CRPG Addict articles for a long while now. For various reasons, those two really stood out to me as a teenage gamer back then. Deathlord in particular, for a RPG-obsessed kid who had recently began studying Japanese and was actively importing Japanese stuff via relatives in San Francisco, struck a chord. Of course I never finished the damn thing, but now I can enjoy (suffer?) vicariously playing it once more through your efforts.

    Regarding the last-minute change to a Japanese-ish setting, I would guess that the EA marketing department wanted to cash-in on the popularity of AD&D's Oriental Adventures supliments. As an RPG nut at the time, I remember that OA, along with Dragonlance and the early Forgotten Realms stuff really helped keep AD&D relevant in the mid/late 80's, as it was otherwise becoming passe by that point in the face of Warhammer, Call of Cthulhu and others that were tapping directly into our teenage metalhead RPG geek brains, at least for my particular peer group.

  3. If you're already getting tired of Ultima clones, well, you're going to loooooooove Gates of Delirium!

    1. Agreed!

      Speaking of that, if you need the binaries for GoD, just drop me a line. I think I have them up for download on my site too, after the original links died.

    2. Aint nobody gonna love Gates Of Delirium! ha! Even the developers didnt love it. shame my long play is no longer up on armchair arcade :/

    3. It's still there. I used it to complete my entry on the game. I didn't realize you were the same "Stu."

  4. No wonder you're tired of Ultima clones by now, but this seems like one of the better ones. Let's hope it doesn't go overboard with the difficulty or screw up the balance too much.

    1. The discussion of Ultima clones is interesting since I can't help but feel that Ultima clones - in the style of Ultima I-V - are somewhat uncommon among CRPGs. I've always felt there were more first person RPGs for instance, at least in the 80s and early 90s. While in the mid to late 90s isometric RPGs became standard. Maybe I'll need to go through the archives to make sure.

      It also feels like few Ultima clones were ever as good as even Ultima III, despite the seemingly simple formula compared to other CRPG subgenres. Which I feel bad about since Ultima-style is my favourite CRPG style.

  5. I wonder where they got some of these words. I can't find anything to fit "toshi" or "kusamotsu" even in my large Japanese dictionary. "kusa" is obviously "grass" but I don't know what they thought the "motsu" part did. I guess in 1987 they didn't have google translate but they must have been relying on some resource. "genkai" and "shizen" refer to mystery and nature, not people.

    1. A lot of these seem to be literal translations. Another comment here said that the Japanese words were a late addition to avoid copyright infringement, so I would guess that not a lot of thought went into their "translation", they just picked up a dictionary and thrown in the first word that had at least a minimal similarity to the meaning they wanted to convey, not caring about grammar, as long as it sounded cool and Japanese.

      According to this dictionary, "motsu" does have an "entangle" meaning:

      One of toshi's meanings is elder or senior. Elves (of the standard Tolkien fantasy variety) are often referred to as an "elder race", and they live longer than humans in most settings.

    2. "Motsu" means "to hold" in Japanese. It literally means it in the sense of "to possess" not "paralyze" but I'm totally convinced they looked up "Grass" and "hold" in a dictionary and that's where "kusamotsu" comes from.

      There are more spells--and other things in the game--where it's painfully obvious they just did a quick lookup in a Japanese-English dictionary--they've got a high level damage spell that literally means "Dishwashing soap" in Japanese for example. And their attempt at a "Berserker" class ends up more like "crazy person/deviant." A lot of the "translations" are really funny.

    3. Yeah, as I had only been studying Japanese for around a year when Deathlord was released, I was really confused about some of these words for a while, until I realized it was basically just a reverse form of the "Engrish" phenomenon I was already familiar with from my Famicom games and anime mags.

      At least we can be thankful they didn't misspell that one as "kusomotsu"...

    4. I am tickled by the thought of Dishwashing Soap being a powerful blast spell.

    5. Kills 99.9% of the germs

    6. The butchering of language goes both ways!

    7. I cringed at their use of "yakuza" for "thief" here. The Japanese version of Might and Magic uses touzoku for that, as does pretty much every RPG I've seen translated into actual Japanese.

      A little off-topic, but the Famicom version of M&M doesn't have Good or Evil alignments; instead, they're "Law" and "Chaos" respectively, though they still serve the same function.

    8. "Yakuza" isn't a mistake. It's almost undoubtedly lifted from the class of the same name in the 1E AD&D Oriental Adventures sourcebook that was popular at the time. The biggest sign they used that sourcebook is that they also lifted the misspelled "shukenja" class from it as well.

    9. Given that believers in Shugendo were probably no more given to mysticism than anyone else of that era, that Yakuza is a term from the 1600-1800's (missing its Medieval period by a few centuries) and that even translations of early RPGs to Japanese didn't use those terms. I strongly suspect that Shukenja, Yakuza represent some borrowing by TSR from one of the earliest Japanese themed RPG's - Phoenix Game's Bushido or perhaps some common source material. The term Yakuza was probably kicking around for a while. There was a film by that name in the 1970's which was well known enough to earn a (poor) review from Ebert.

  6. I intensely enjoyed this game back in 1990-91. I was on the Commodore platform, but it stuck with me as one of the greats. I wound up buying the hint manual for it and I've still got it in a box somewhere. It's also just about the most difficult game I've ever played. Getting your party wiped out in the middle of a dungeon is troublesome to say the least. I vaguely recall being able to reform my party, so I'd use stronger character to power level weaker ones to be able to field a roster of rescue teams. Changing party configuration would throw me back to the starting island though, so I'd have to be cautious about it or I'd wind up losing my ship and having to spend another 10,000 gold (I think) and buy another. Another tough thing was that it saves the state of towns. If you piss off the guards, it effectively became permanent. If you bought all the ships in a port, no more were forthcoming. Anyway, reaching the end of it was awesome and I hope you can find some of the fun I did, Chet.

  7. I'm really happy to see you've started Deathlord, as this is a strange favorite of mine, but I might want to suggest you change your party structure before you get in too deep as you've kind of hamstrung yourself with this one. In Deathlord, the three characters in the back row can't attack, and only characters that directly participate in the battle, either by landing hits or casting spells, will gain experience. By having four front-row characters, (Kishi, Samurai, Yakuza, Ryoshi) you're condemning one of them to never gain any experience. Hybrids like the Kishi and Ryoshi will never be effective as casters as it takes four times as long to gain new spell levels. (e.g. level 40 for level 4 spells as opposed to 10)

    I don't know if it counts as breaking rule 4, but I've been doing a deep-dive of Deathlord for a couple of RL friends that has a post on party creation--the manual is so terrible in how it explains things that it might help. (the link to the blog is in my profile)

    1. Thanks for explaining that. I had rather imagined that the experience thing would work itself out once Ryoshi got a bow.

    2. Yes, strangely enough you can't attack from the back ranks with missile weapons--it's something I was confused by first time through as well.

      By the way, I forgot to mention--you don't have to type the entire spell out every time when you cast something. If you enter "?" at the spell prompt you'll get a context-sensitive list of all of the spells that character can cast at the moment. As an added (and exploity) bonus, if you quit out of that prompt with the ESC key, that character still counts as casting a spell for the purposes of experience--you can get "credit" for acting in combat this way without actually expending your magic points.

    3. The experience thing is the most ball-breaking and broken aspect of this game. It makes leveling your priest and wizard almost impossible, because if you put them in your frontline they die almost at once.

    4. The experience thing is a pain, but as Genpei pointed out, hitting (C)ast and then (ESC) cancel is enough for your spellcaster to gain experience from the combat. Forgetting to do that at least once per fight is why your spell casters lag behind your front line.

      I'm not saying it makes sense, I'm just saying it works (and have verified it with save file snooping).

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. I wouldn't worry too much about save-state scumming via the emulator. I read an interview with the creator a few years back where it said that adding perma-death to Deathlord was a mistake which he regrets.

  9. The developers: I don't know if he was Vancouver-based at this time, but Deathlord programmer Al Escudero would go on to make the shoestring Spelljammer CRPG "Pirates of Realmspace" locally, after creating a lucrative local dialup MUD (which you won't find much about Googling) named The Majic Realm at ICE Online. Your paths may cross a bit further in the CRPG realm, but probably not for years and years.

    I learned quite early that there is a terrain type--I guess maybe swamp?--that you don't want to walk on, as it deals damage to the party with every step.

    I gather that this trope was inherited from the Ultima games, perhaps the originator in the game sphere? I first encountered it playing Dragon Warrior on the NES (boots make all the difference!) but there sure is a comprehensive accounting over at

    1. Ultima 7 and up had "swamp boots" you could wear to cancel the poisoning effect. This was particularly hilarious in U9, where you could literally swim underwater in the swamp, but so long as you had your boots on, you were fine!


  10. Oh man, Deathlord. One of my favorite Ultima clones. I can't explain why. I think it was the punishing difficulty combined with what seemed like a brilliant adaptation of Japanese mythology. Interestingly, I worked with the lead developer (Al Escudero) several years ago, and he never mentioned it was originally meant to have Norse mythology. I learned that only fairly recently.

  11. Wow, Deathlord. I'm in the middle of playing this right now myself, so here's a couple of general comments and a few ROT13'd spoilers.

    1. Healer spoiler: gurer vf n urnyre va gur cnynpr bs gur rzcrebe.

    2. The experience thing is not so bad once you learn the cast-and-cancel trick. But it's also okay if your fighters get ahead of your back line in terms of levels. Still, you will need to grind. A lot. Mild spoiler for how to do it: gurer'f n ehvarq gbja ba gur evtug unaq fvqr bs gur vfynaq gung unf vasvavgryl erfcnjavat cnegvrf bs fxryrgbaf gung znxrf n tbbq cynpr gb tevaq.

    3. The lack of useful information (what town you're in, where you should go next, what the (I)nquire keywords are, when a chat is a random piece of gibberish versus a vital clue, which dungeons are required vs. simply window dressing) is one of the notorious "features" of this game. I wish you the best of luck figuring out what to do next without a walkthrough. But I'll say that the reason the game is so long is *because* you'll never really know what you're supposed to do, and even when you are given a plot arrow, you either get a purpose or a direction but almost never both. I have a walkthrough and I'm having a hard time figuring out how you're "supposed" to discover the plot arrows.

    5. Spoiler about combat inside towns: vs lbh rire nggnpx NALBAR vafvqr n gbja, gur zrepunagf jvyy fgbc fryyvat gb lbh, gur thneqf jvyy nggnpx lbh rirel gvzr lbh ragre gur gbja, naq ab bar jvyy rire sbetrg gung gurl ungr lbh. Nyjnlf yrg bgure crbcyr, rira barf lbh xabj gb or ubfgvyr, nggnpx lbh svefg. Vs lbh rire ghea n gbja ntnvafg lbh ol zvfgnxr, erybnq lbhe tnzr. Nyfb ab bar pnerf vs lbh fgrny sebz cbgf naq obkrf.

  12. I've heard that this game is so brutal it would immediately save to the disk if anyone in your party died. So there was no turning-off-the-computer-to-avoid permadeath option. The only way to get around that is by popping out the disk for every single battle. Now if Deathlord were really hard core, it would stop combat if there was no disk in the drive, forcing you to have it in at all times.

    1. It immediately saves the game mid-battle if someone dies or gets petrified, yes. It also immediately saves the game if you turn a town against you, either by attacking someone or getting caught stealing. Basically any time something really bad happens to your party.

      Back in the day we used to just play the game with the disk drives open and only close them when we had to. The game doesn't save very often and prompts you for disks when you need them, so it was a better insurance policy than just copying disks a lot.

    2. >Back in the day we used to just play the game with the disk drives open and only close them when we had to.

      No you didn't. That absolutely didn't work on a Commodore 1541 drive, and I'm reasonably sure it wouldn't work on a 1571 either. Closing the drive physically levers the drive head down.

    3. Which is why leaving the drives (as in the latch) open makes them unable to write anything. It's not a 3,5" drive where inserting the disk immediately pops the whole mechanism in place.

    4. Good thing I used neither a 1541 or 1571 but an Apple IIe then, wouldn't you say?

    5. Heh yep, I popped my disk out for every combat, too. Now with the way emulators work, making a backup is just a matter of ctrl-c ctrl-v.

  13. Deathlord-length comment: I will join the chorus of those eagerly awaiting this site’s tenacious treatment of this classic game. A few years ago after the non-DOS-only restructuring, the Master Game List spreadsheet indicated a vast queue leading here. Counting the games remaining cell-by-cell was not unlike the obsession that Deathlord requires. Reading full posts about Alternate Reality: The Dungeon and this game, when they once waited so far down the list, is an indication of Chet’s unparalleled efficiency. In the interim, it seemed fairly clear that despite the Addict’s enjoyment of mapping, there would be a high probability that it would add up to a rather non-potent Gimlet and perhaps even be pilloried for its many faults. But like the brutal difficulty of the game, Mr. Bolingbroke’s informed pillorying would be masochistic entertainment as well.

    I mentioned during one of the Fate post comments that this was the only game I played for more than a decade, first fresh out of the thin red box/envelope/cover in 1987 and finally beating it at the turn of the millennium. Back when it was fresh, a friend of the family passed by our computer, saw the box and joked, “Deathlord: learn hundreds of imaginative ways to kill people...” I only played it on Apple ][c. The internet needed to be invented in order to finish it. For death protection, I used Copy II+ on a rotating set of 5 ¼ floppies (converted to double-sided discs with a half-moon hole punch, of course). Information from other posters is news to me: if I knew there was a hint book, I would have driven to Babagge’s or equivalent hoping to find a non-shrink-wrapped copy for a strategic peak and I would have finally bought the thing after too many trips to the mall.

    Instead of hint books and “cast and cancel” (seriously? you-all are breaking the heart of junior high school me who would have sector-edited this game if it was possible, when my anemic magic users just needed to pretend to cast spells!), I had graph paper (often re-cut and pasted by hand), a single sheet of critical hints, and a reoccurring urge to pull the ][c by its built -in handle out of cold storage in my parent’s basement during school breaks. In the early days of the internet, I contributed to Wilson Lau’s Deathlord FAQ, and through modem conversations with him I learned the last word needed to finish it. I still don’t know where I missed one of the 7 words (it’s not a spoiler if it’s on the box), but I probably have a pencil map where it’s marked on a wall.

    All of the above critiques are correct: Ultima ripoff, Orientalist window-dressing, crushing permadeath (and level-drain!). I spent months just trying to escape the first island and then years trying to survive, returning many times to the same island to grind enough money to buy yet another boat for my party of the perpetual undead. They were originally converted from an Ultima disc and I just stuck with them since having even a couple of extra levels of hit points was worth more at the time than a Mahotsukai spellcaster, who would have been useful further down the path. The disk ran bit differently in open water vs. land, so an island somewhere could be heard through drive sound. Desert, frost, ninjas, pyramids, endless combats, bumping into endless walls and searching endlessly for secret doors. The final run is pretty great, because once you’re there, you are finally built enough to absorb the damage and the dungeons seem spacious by comparison to the secret door and trap slogs that preceded them. Like the joys of reading this blog, most people won’t understand, and I wouldn’t tell most people about it in the first place, but finishing Deathlord was uniquely satisfying. Hopefully, Chet can draw similar well-deserved satisfaction from the experience. Thank you for searching for doors in the IJKM directions and walking into the walls.

    1. --> CopyII+ and a rotating set of 5 1/4" hole punched double-sided discs!<--

      Yes! That was how it was done!

    2. “cast and cancel” (seriously? you-all are breaking the heart of junior high school me who would have sector-edited this game if it was possible

      I seriously did not believe this note in Lau's FAQ until I verified it myself by writing a hex editor for the .NIB disk images and the LinApple memory-dump save states.

      Relatedly, hex-editing the Deathlord save disks is totally possible, and I'd be happy to publish a doc showing how to do it based on some back issues of the Computist I found (plus my own development time). :)

  14. Drive Sound On WaterJune 6, 2017 at 7:38 AM

    Thank you, Reba. I'm making a slight bow in your general direction.

  15. Glad to see the generally positive comments here. Even though I never beat it, Deathlord was always one of my favorites despite its wonky mechanics and interface. I was always under the impression that this game was not much loved by the masses. Very much looking forward to this series of posts.

  16. I believe my party got stuck in a pyramid somewhere and never found their way out. I assume their bodies are thoroughly decomposed by now.

  17. I originally played this on the c64 and it was far worse because you had the agonizing wait times for disk read/writes. Losing party members permanently on top of having to wait literal minutes to roll a new one up compounded the agony.

    There's something great about this game that I just can't put my finger on. I should hate it, but every few months I get the urge to boot it up again to TPK for a few hours. :)

    I think it's the massive scope that intrigues me. The amount of creatures, dungeons and locations is staggering, especially for its time. The dungeons are massive and filled with horrible traps, secret doors, and puzzles. Add to that the need for torches to find your way, it's VERY possible to lose an entire party in this game from simply becoming trapped or lost in a dungeon. These aren't pansy dungeons like most other games, these are dungeons for real men - as they should be.

    1. JiffyDOS or a Fastload Cartridge certainly helped!

    2. LOL, I actually had a jiffydos. So as bad as it was, I could have been even worse!

  18. This will be a great game and great postings about it! :)
    I am not sure I can play this one because I have no the patience for it :)
    I am going to give it a try, but using IJKM keys for moving, that is maddening.
    Where can I see the experience points that my party is getting?

    1. I usually use autohotkey to remap to arrow keys or numpad on some of these weird layouts for moving you sometimes see in games using emulators for old computers.

    2. The Commodore 64 only had two arrow keys, down and right. You had to hold Shift to get up and left. That's the primary reason for these weird layouts.

    3. Thank you Breshard for the information. I have managed to use it. But I have never seen so confusing program as Autohotkey :)

    4. Just so you know, DOSBOX has a built in keyremapper that might have an easier interface.

    5. Where can I see the experience points that my party is getting?

      You can't. The game doesn't show them to you, which is one of the maddening parts.

      I was only able to figure it out by writing a memory dumper and using trial-and-error inspection to figure out which fields were which.

  19. I have played very few of the games featured in the blog, but I remember reading about several in computer and game magazines. The title screen gave me a nice jolt of recognition, I remember seeing it in a review or maybe as illustration for an article.. it is quite memorable.

  20. I got this game when it was new, and was looking forward to a "bigger Ultima" ... hoo-boy, did this deliver. Got lost in the oceans trying to find other continents. I do really like the top-down dungeons, as they were much more interesting than the basic 3D of Ultimas 1-5. They were also very deadly. I think I finally abandoned the game with the party at sea, looking for land to explore.

    With the maps and walkthrus available now, I hope Addict can see this one to the end!

  21. Enough people have asked about experience that I thought I'd reveal a few things I've learned. I don't think any of this counts as a spoiler so I haven't "encoded" it.

    Levels 2-5 require 200XP each. The next four (6-9) require 400XP each. The next four (10-13) require 600XP each, and so on.

    When you earn enough XP to level, you get a little + next to your character, and your character info goes from "04+00" to "04+01". The game's internal XP counter resets to 0 at this point.

    When you actually make it back to the academy to train (from 04+01 to 05+00), your XP is once again reset to 0. So whatever XP you earned between leveling and training is also lost.

    If you wait long enough before training, you can reach 04+02, but the game won't let you reach 04+03. I haven't tried it to figure out what happens to your XP counter at that point. Since the XP, level, and level-ups are tracked as different values, I suspect the game allows you to continue to accumulate XP but never lets "level-ups" accumulate past 2.

    1. Oh, also: There does not seem to be rhyme nor reason to how many XP are awarded to individual characters.

      Group size only matters to a certain point. 1 Skeleton gives less (total) XP than 4 Skeletons, but 15 Skeletons tend to give the same XP as 6 Skeletons.

      Enemy type does matter; Wolves give different XP than Skeletons. I haven't mapped out the patterns here.

      Characters that attack in melee but never score a kill seem less likely to be awarded XP.

      Spellcasters are generally likely to receive exactly 1 fewer XP than characters that engage in melee combat. I'm not sure that kills matter here. WHY?!

    2. Yep, you're right on the money--it still keeps accumulating past the cap, but you can't ever have more than +2 for your levels.

      For those playing this using VICE, the memory address for experience is stored in an array of 12 bytes at 01A13296. It can be useful to gauge how much experience your party has, since it's never displayed in game at any point.

      It works the same on AppleWin, but on that emulator the memory values change every time so it's harder to find. It's usually at a value like XXXXFDF6 though.

    3. Also as to your above comment about how many XP are awarded to individual characters--there is a pattern. Experience is # of monsters x EXP value for the monsters, split evenly among all participating characters. To count as "participating" a character either needs to cast a spell or hit an enemy in combat.

      If the amount of experience isn't exactly divisible by 6 (or however many characters it gets divided by) then the remainder gets divided with characters in the front getting priority. So, hypothetically, if you have a party of 6 active characters, and you win a combat that gives you 11 XP, the first five characters in the party will get 2XP and the last one will only get 1. That's why it looks like the spellcasters receive 1 fewer XP than melee characters--they're in the back of the party, so they're getting shafted when it comes to distributing the uneven "remainder" of the XP pool.

    4. Ah, and that also explains why sometimes my 4th-position Shisai gets XP when my 5th-position Mahotsukai doesn't.

      There still seems to be a cap on XP granted for large groups, though. Or I wonder if it's tiered somehow. I should go back to trying to track hits, kills, and XP awarded to see if I can figure that out again.

  22. According to the Digital Antiquarian, this game was the reason Origin changed distributors from EA to Broderbund, and was almost destroyed by EA's retaliation. Search for "Deathlord" in that article if you're curious.

  23. Actually, the Stats in Deathlord rip off RuneQuest, not D&D.

  24. One of my favorite games from 1987.

    I'm sorry you thought it was too long, but I loved the immersive experience. I think the originality was definitely not the paste-on Japanese theme (which was done after the fact to fill a presumed niche in missing game content) but in dungeon design. Many of those hours were spent solving hidden wall puzzles or manipulating teleport traps.

    The beauty of it though, is you didn't HAVE to spend that time. Many dungeons were not directional and were there simply as flavor or for variety. There were only about 8-10 dungeons/castles/structures you HAD to complete for words, artifacts or information.

    More, the dungeon puzzles could be skinned a few ways. If you couldn't figure out the trick, some high level spells let you do things like teleport up or down a few levels (to get around problem areas), walk across water, and so on.

    I think you might be mistaken about how experience is handled. You do get a "+" when you gain a level, however you also do keep accumulating experience.

    Now if you earn TWO levels before training, then experience does stop accumulating.

    Some users made comments of plagiarism but that's silly as nothing copyrightable was infringed upon. The game did claim to allow use of characters from other EA and Interplay Productions games (the Ultima series, Bards Tale, etc..) but that isn't plagiarism and was openly condoned by these companies, at least according to articles in Family Computing magazine and Dragon magazine by TSR.

    The graphics were a downgrade from Ultima, for sure and there was no music or sound to speak of.

    Combat was simplified (also a step down from Ultima, but on par with Bard's Tale and is quite derivative of that, again without crossing copyright infringement lines).

    To each their own. I loved the game and gave it way more than a hundred hours trying to be a completionist.

  25. You would lose all the additional experience you accumulated since the level up though. There are a number of issues that I’d consider actual bugs that I fixed while making Deathlord Relorded, a free modernization of the game. Check it out on if interested.


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