Wednesday, March 24, 2021

BRIEF: The Tomb of Drewan (1982)

 
      
The Tomb of Drewan
United Kingdom
Audiogenic (developer and publisher)
Released in 1982 for Commodore VIC-20; 1983 for Commodore 64
    
The Tomb of Drewan sends an adventurer on a quest to recover the Amulet of Kartos and the stones of earth, fire, air, and water from the titular Tomb of Drewan, an ancient prince who built the tomb to protect the amulet from those who would use it for evil. Now the evil gods have filled the land with monsters, and a white warrior must reassemble the amulet.
   
The tomb is organized into 400 rooms of a 20 x 20 configuration, randomized for each new adventurer. Each room contains exactly four treasures and four guardians. The guardians, distinguished by both icon and color, are divided into three types of "mortal guards" and three types of "magical guards"; the former can attack you only in melee, the latter with spells from up to five squares away. You have to kill or avoid the guards while assaying the treasure.
     
A Tomb of Drewan room. I'm facing a mortal guard and attacking with my sword. I have "Chaos," "Fire," "Jump," and "Petrify" spells, plus an elixir. There are four treasures remaining in this room, any of which could be the amulet or one of the stones.
    
The game's originality lies in the various tools at your disposal to kill or avoid the guards. If nothing else, you always have a sword that does a predictable 3 points of damage per round. The enemies also do predictable amounts of damage per round. No amount of luck or cleverness avoids this, so every room becomes a question of the hard math. If you see a black mortal guard in a room, you know that you can kill him with your sword in 2 rounds but he'll do 8 points of damage to you in those rounds.
  
To avoid taking damage, you can use a variety of spells. "Fire," "Water," and "Chaos" all do predictable damage. You can temporarily "Paralyze," use a "Mirror" spell to deflect an enemy's attack, or shoot a golden arrow at him. You can also use a "Remover" spell to get rid of a section of wall or simply evade or leap over the enemy. You can also "Jump" to a random room. You can only carry one copy of each of these spells at a time, as well as one elixir to fully restore your health. Every chamber is an exercise in analysis and math, although the enemies are moving in real-time, and the pathfinding is pretty good, so you can't take too long. If that's not enough to keep track of, vampire bats occasionally enter the room, fly up to you, and bite you. The only way to stop them is to have a "Vampire" spell handy. 
         
A useful "Help" screen goes through the spells.
      
Some of the treasures are gold. Carrying it causes your strength to deplete more rapidly (this isn't a huge issue since standing still causes it to return to 100%). If you die, the Time Lord will appear and demand a bribe of anywhere from 1 to 100 gold pieces and resurrect you if you can afford to pay. Otherwise, death is permanent, but you can save and reload to tape.
     
Fortunately, I can afford this.
          
The game would be fun except for a couple of things. The first is a nightmare of a control system. I grant you that the movement cluster (@ ; : /) makes sense on the Commodore keyboards, but what is less supportable is having separate keys for turning right and left (L and =) irrespective of movement. You have to be facing enemies to attack them, and you have to be facing treasures to inspect and take them. This means, infuriatingly, that you cannot attack enemies (or inspect or take treasures) that are above or below you, only right or left. Enemies have no such weakness. A ton of the game is trying to get sequences of move-turn-attack right with unfamiliar keys. Irrespective of movement, the game otherwise does a great job mapping each individual action to a unique key and making it clear (with asterisks) on the screen at all times which actions you can take.
    
I only explored about 12 of 400 rooms in this time.
    
The second problem is the sheer size: 400 rooms is far too many to search for the pieces of the amulet. I spent 40 minutes with the game and didn't even finish the first column. It would take over ten hours to explore half the rooms (with no way to guarantee victory without abusing save states). That's too much time for a game of such limited content. As it doesn't have any character growth and combat success is based solely on your inventory, it fails my definition of an RPG.
   
Still, it's an interesting game. I can't identify its pedigree. It plays a little like the Dunjonquest series, perhaps as filtered by the simpler Quest games, but I'm not 100% sure about that. It doesn't really share any of the same commands or terminology. I can't find any evidence that its author, Trevor Pitts, worked on any other games or that its publisher, Audiogenic, published another RPG.

24 comments:

  1. Huh. I admit I was surprised by the last sentence, when you mentioned the author's name was Trevor Pitts. Given the title "Tomb of Drewan", I was fully expecting the first name of the author to be Andrew... (Maybe that's his middle name?)

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    1. Same. It strikes me as the typical thing 80s RPG designers did. And he picked Drewan because Werdna was already taken

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    2. strong possibility: Andrew is Trevor's little brother and/or nemesis at school. "I'll show you!"

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    3. Are you sure it's not Trebor's little brother and/or nemesis?

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    4. "I'll show you! I'll make you a powerful, benevolent lord who strove heroically to protect the world from evil! Take that!"

      Hm... not sure I agree that's all that strong a possibility...

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  2. By the way, I think there might be a slight error? You mention a "Time Lord" who can resurrect you, but the screenshot calls him a "Tomb Lord".

    (I made this a separate comment so you can delete this comment after making the correction.)

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    1. This is a rather nice typ0. IIRC there were indeed episodes were the Doctor saves his companion from death or at least near death with his powers by sacrificing one of his resurrection, could remember wrong though.

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    2. Given the Addict's interests, I'd think for him "Time Lord" would bring to mind Ultima III and VII before Dr. Who...

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    3. Not that it matters much, but Time Lords are also a nasty monster in Might and Magic II.

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  3. That seems a nice game mechanically, apart from the non-char development aspect. While that's not my favorite model of RPG structure, there's a definite fun puzzle aspect to hard-math combat mechanics. I thought right away that I'd gladly play a modern day version of this (that would make a nice casual mobile game, hmmmm that could be a fun summer project with my kid).

    Then I remembered that something like Druidstone (2019, from the Grimrock devs) was exactly that: fixed damage, movements points, inventory-based with minimal char dev, solving each "room" was essentially an optimization puzzle, and they even started development by wanting to make rooms randomized, but ended up returning to pre-desinged levels to have a more coherent story/campaign aspect. Their #1 influence was Into the Breach, but you see an "RPG" pedigree of this going back to games like this one.

    Fun, thanks for the report.

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    1. Hmmm, I loved Into the Breach, but I couldn't get into Druidstone (though I barely started). Are the enemies predictable enough to make them similar? With Into the Breach, they had a wide choice of possible moves, but how they would act on a given round was flagged, so you could logic out the best tactics.

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    2. My only issue with the games that are pure-math is when it's possible to get into a situation where there's nothing you can do to win. I guess that's technically possible in a lot of games, but when the mechanics are obscured, it can at least feel like you have more of a chance vs having to enter a fight that you know you're going to lose.

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    3. Yeah Into the Breach is a great exercise for the mind and when you mess up you really know it was a mistake not just random luck.

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    4. Into the Breach is a fantastic little gem (I'm 50+ hours in) and can be played perfectly with touch on a surface tablet. Druidstone was also very good - the similarities somehow escaped me until now!

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    5. Play "Tower of the Sorceror", it's freeware.

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    6. Haven't played Druidstone but the bug thing in Into the Breach is learning it's okay to take a hit to meet an objective, haven't got into a place though where I just couldn't win at all

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  4. Did saved games actually go onto the tape? That seems like it would risk overwriting the game data...

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    1. I just figured that games on tape implicitly couldn't save progress.

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    2. There's no reason why they can't. The biggest issue would be recording it right so it can actually be reloaded later, because from my understanding tapes can be annoying to get working right

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    3. Eject game tape. Insert save tape. Write to tape. Eject save tape. Return game tape.

      Much the same as with early disk systems with zero or limited onboard HDD.

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    4. The Commodore computers had a counter on the tape player/recorder, and it was quite common to see instructions like "fast forward to 187 and press Play". It's possible that some space on the tape was reserved for a save.

      Or the save space was on side B, or as GregT says, you used a separate save tape.

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    5. As I said in an entry recently, I tried to save games on tape a lot in the 1980s, and I've tried quite a few times with emulated "tapes" in the last 10 years. Out of dozens of attempts, I don't think I've had it work successfully even once.

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  5. The left/right facing is so strange for a top-down game. I had to check it in the manual on mocagh. It's a very nice manual for the time, lots of detail on the mechanics, and the back doubles as a quick reference card, which is a very modern touch.

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