Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Dungeons of the Unforgiven: Won! (One Module; with Summary and Rating)

The closest thing we get to a "winning screen" in Module I.
Dungeons of the Unforgiven
United States
Moraffware (developer and publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS
Date Started: 10 January 2023
Date Ended: 20 January 2023
Total Hours: 7 (1.5 modules out of 5)
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 29
Ranking at Time of Posting: 290/483 (60%)
Dungeons is halfway between a second version of Moraff's World (1991) and an actual sequel. This first-person, tiled game has you wandering a series of dungeons with town levels on top, slaying monsters, gaining experience, finding wealth, acquiring spells, and getting more powerful. "Boss" enemies occur at regular intervals, and slaying the deepest boss is the key to "winning" each of five modules. There's a certain enjoyment that comes from improving the character, but that's all the game offers. There is no story, no lore, no NPCs, no special encounters, no role-playing, and nothing to find in the randomly-generated dungeon levels except for enemies. The interface and graphics are unusual and clearly polarizing. The interface is highly customizable and the automap works quite well.
Well, I did what I set out to do, which was to "win" the first module. It took me about four hours after the first session, and most of that was spent grinding so I could make enough money to afford a room at the inn. Although I donated copiously to "save a child" at the temples--which did ultimately earn me a hefty discount--the cost of rooms continued to rise exponentially, forcing me to lower dungeon levels and their higher rewards. Fortunately, I was gaining experience at the same time I was gaining money, and when I rested, I rose multiple levels. One night took me from Level 7 to Level 12.
Leveling up is only one means of character development. As you slay enemies, you often encounter books that raise your attributes, "puff balls" that have a chance of raising or lowering your attributes, and potions that give you, say, 6 points in one attribute in exchange for 3 points of another.
A book gives me two points of strength.
Most important, you acquire spells. The problem for my mage (remember, in this game, a "mage" is a fighter/wizard) is that I never had enough spell points where I could feel comfortable casting spells regularly. Except for occasional restorations of 1 point when you find a post-combat energy ball, spell points only increase when you rest. This is in contrast to hit points, which you can pay 500 rubles to restore at temples. This amount does not increase with levels and soon becomes trivial.
Instead of writing an entry, I just want to show all the game's monster portraits. I thought this one was pretty rad.
Thus, although I found about four dozen spells, I only ever cast about eight of them. Primarily, these were healing spells ("Little Cure," "Big Cure," and ultimately "Heal All Wounds"), "Cure Disease," "Cure Poison," and a couple of combat spells. In particular, I found that "Power Weapon" (which has several levels) was the most valuable combat spell for me. It lasted 60 turns and increased the damage that I did by a factor of at least 8. I used it for all the boss battles after the second one, which probably allowed me to win them at a lower level than I otherwise should have been able to achieve.
If I had some spell points left over after slaying a boss, I might cast "Ascend" and later "Major Ascend" (sends you up 10 levels) to help get back to town. Finding your way down is relatively easy in this game, particularly with all the hidden chutes, but getting back up can be a chore. I only ever found one trap door key and then never found an associated trap door.
I hope they don't Google how to do that.
None of this is a complaint. My giant mage was a powerful fighter, and if my limited spell points forced me to conserve, that's what being a hybrid character is all about. I'm sure the pure spellcasters can let loose more with magic. One good thing about Dungeons is how different the experience is for different classes. If I liked the game more, I'd stick with it out of curiosity and see how fighters possibly get by without magic, or how monks get by without weapons and armor. I'd love some reports from the field about these things.
I defeated the shadow gargalon during the first session, on Level 5. In this one, I defeated the shadow elemental on Level 10, the shadow vulture on Level 15, and ultimately the shadow demon queen on Level 20. I don't believe there are any down ladders on Level 20, but you can still generate new random levels by using the "Descend" spell. Finding the bosses was perhaps the hardest part of the game. When you reach their levels, the automap tells you roughly what direction to go, but the levels consist of unconnected parts. You often have to move up or down to reach a new area of the level that you really want to be on. Some ladders move you more than one level at a time, though, and there are the ever-persistent hidden chutes. It can be a struggle just to remain on the boss's level, let alone find him or her.
This message was never not annoying.
The enemies continued to be memorably drawn. Whether you think the artwork style is good or bad, you have to admit it's unique. Levels 16-20 were all water levels, and many of the enemies were depicted in boats, such as the "couple from hell": a chainmail bikini-clad woman with a spear and a Charon-like figure rowing her along. A "she-demon" is a two-headed, four-armed woman. I thought the skeletal vultures of Levels 11-15 were appropriately terrifying.
I guarantee this is the only game to feature this type of enemy.
Some enemies are capable of draining levels. I persist in believing that should be a punishable crime. Walking garbage cans and giant balls have incredible numbers of hit points but do not deliver commensurate money or experience. In the last entry, I forgot to mention the walking flasks full of disease or poison.
Honestly . . .
Each boss dropped a special treasure. The shadow elemental dropped Moraff's Ring of Wisdom, which increased my wisdom by 12 points. The shadow vulture dropped a "very rare bottle of Pogerstead's Milk," which increased my strength by 12. The shadow demon queen dropped a "Wimpy Orb of Armor Enhancement," which turned my field plate into +25 magical armor.
The contrast between the graphics for the shadow vulture and walking trash can really say all that needs to be said about this game.
There was no "winning screen" after killing the shadow demon queen, just a message that I should "explore the other vast dungeons of the unforgiven" to find more treasures. After I returned to the town and stayed at the inn to get my character to Level 18, he was 66 years old (from an initial 35, I think). It was all I could do to afford the inn, let alone the "culture stock" necessary to avoid aging. (Oddly, my spell points fully restored every time I stayed, even when I didn't have as many magic  crystals as the game said I needed.) Even if I could have afforded it, the game ages you quickly while you're just exploring. Some of the dungeon expeditions lasted five years. 
If something existed in real life that prevented you from aging while you were sleeping, I'd rob banks to pay for it.
Although the game has no real story, there is a certain amount of joy in just getting more powerful, and I was feeling it after reaching Level 18. So I took a portal to Module II and started exploring those levels. I found that they were maybe 1.5 times as hard as comparable levels in Module I. In Module II, bosses were found every 10 levels instead of every 5. I defeated the shadow troggisher on Level 10 (I got +9 body armor) and the shadow giant worm on Level 20 (+12 gauntlet).
Killing the second boss of Module II.
By this point, I started wondering what I was doing with my life. I decided to see if I could get to Module V just to check it out. I took a portal to Module III. I had no spell points by this time, so I started searching for an inn. I took the stairs down to Level 2 to reach a new area of the town level, but then I fell down a chute to Level 3. It dumped me in a 3 x 3 square from which there was no exit--no ladders or secret doors. I didn't have enough spell points to cast "Ascend" or "Descend." I was stuck. I should have killed the emulator, but I dumbly hit "Quit" and saved there. So that's the ignominious end of Chester the Giant Mage. [Ed. After I typed all of this, I remembered the T)unnel option. Oh, well.]
I hate it when walls refuse to move.
In a GIMLET, I give the game:
  • 0 points for the game world. I'm not going to countenance that nonsense about "Eart."
Maybe he could have at least named the worlds instead of calling them "Module I" and "Module II"?
  • 5 points for character creation and development. There's a very interesting set of classes, creating a very different game depending on the player's choice. There are several satisfying, rewarding ways to develop.
  • 0 points for NPC interaction. There are no NPCs.
My mid-game character sheet.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. The enemies are originally-named and graphically-memorable but otherwise don't behave differently enough for more credit here. There are no special encounters that involve role-playing.
  • 5 points for magic and combat. Magic gets almost all of that credit. One of the game's strengths is the large number of spells and the uniqueness of the "permanent" spell system. 
The graphic for this "squishy cube" is the most confusing thing I've ever seen in my life.
  • 2 points for equipment. For a game that's all about mechanics, the equipment system is curiously under-developed. One weapon and one armor item are really all you have. Everything else that sounds like equipment (like the gauntlets mentioned above) aren't actually visible in the game or on your character; they just add directly to your attributes.
  • 4 points for the economy. You never run out of reasons to collect money, but the system is otherwise simplistic. Having the player find "American dollars" and then having to convert them to "rubles" before spending them adds nothing to the experience.
  • 1 point for quests. There's no real "main quest," and the kill-the-shadow-bosses nature of the modules becomes repetitive.
Nothing breaks the immersion faster than having a character, in-game, refer to his world as "Module III."
  • 4 points for graphics, sound and interface. I like the graphics; sorry to those who don't. There is no sound, however. A good interface allows mouse and keyboard options and the keyboard is easy to master. Great automap.
  • 5 points for gameplay. It's highly replayable with different character choices, and pitched at the right level of difficulty for a permadeath game.
That gives us a final score of 29, which falls below my "recommended" threshold, mostly because there's no real point to the game. Given how much time he spent on a customizable interface, I don't understand why Steve Moraff didn't invest more in content. Even an Akalabeth-like king at the top of the dungeon issuing quests to kill this and that would have given the game some purpose. How hard would it have been to throw in a sensible story and maybe some wandering NPCs in the dungeon? Like Moraff's World, Dungeons is an engine in want of content.
I finally get some respect from the little snake.
This, as far as I know, was Moraff's last attempt at an RPG. He was still selling it when I wrote my review of Moraff's Revenge (1988) in 2011, but his company--which changed its name to Software Diversions in 2004--seems to have enjoyed more success with its arcade and electronic board games. His web site still sells a series of mah-jongg variants first created in 1992.


  1. I dunno; that "couple from hell" doesn't look *that* different from some of the enemies you encounter in Wizardry V...

    The rainbow trashcan, walking beaker of disease, and skeletal vulture, however, are definitely very different.

  2. Congratulations! Agreed the graphics are special and different, whether you like them or not. Looking at them as a reader, I found them interesting enough, though I don't know how I'd react to prolonged exposure when playing the game myself.

    I thought you can only access Module V in the "ICHA" mode anyway and that you had chosen "Normal" - or is it possible to change the difficulty setting during a game? If not, it might have been frustrating to fight all the way through there just to realize this, so maybe getting stuck halfway was better in the end - or at least didn't matter that much since you already reached your goal of clearing Module I.

    1. No, it's not possible. I had either forgotten that I couldn't visit Module V, or I wanted to try anyway and see what kind of message I got.

  3. I don't think these Moraff games can be accused of not attempting to use most of the color palette. But they do seem to have a penchant for the color green.

  4. Personally I love the graphics, gives me a warm mandelbrot-y feeling. Also, slime-green is one of my favourite colours.

  5. I really loved your coverage of that game. The game is anything but bland.

    So many questions on the "flask of disease" enemy, so I will ask only one : "it looks diseased". Is that normal from its point of view ?

  6. "By this point, I started wondering what I was doing with my life."

    Um, I get what you mean. Still, thanks for that constant influx of new posts, all very enjoyable reads, I would have fled from that game or try to kill it with fire ;)

  7. So sad people like this didn't license their engines for other people to use to add a story and things. Such a lot of effort gone to waste.

    It really does feel like an awesome tech demo - that automap! wow! - that is looking for an artistic company to complete it like Pixar did for Autodesk.

    But it really is very 90s given how many cool demos we got from the demo scene that would have made amazing game engines but just became a single group's calling card and nothing more.

  8. I noticed that the square right in front is elongated. I think this strange perspective would bother me while playing. Though my eyes were probably already be bleeding because of the crazy red - green palette. I think your colour blindness was an advantage this time.

  9. Regarding the graphics, I ran some of the screenshots through this color blindness simulator and it looks way better (protanopia/deuteranopia):

    I thought it was especially interesting how the rainbow-colored trash can just kind of looks like it might be shiny chrome.

    1. That's really interesting, I was wondering about that. I know a fair few artists who are colorblind, surprisingly enough, but their work usually tends towards muted colors rather than the garish. Perhaps this was a case of one person drawing what needed to be drawn, and another (colorblind) person selecting the colors to fill the objects?

    2. Oh wow, looking at the screenshots through the aforementioned filters does make them look much more pleasant... So either Moraff or his artist (or both) were colorblind? The reds and greens aren't clashing anymore, and it all has a more radiant appeal... Since Chet is colorblind als well, I can now understand why he likes the graphics. A game that's actually easier to play when having protanopia or deuteranopia... Who knew?

    3. Ha. It never occurred to me that colorblindness might be an asset.

      What I like, though, is the detail in some of the monster portraits. I don't really care what color the panels and stones are, and I can't imagine caring even if I could see the colors. Then again, not being able to see such colors is part of why I don't care about color in the first place.

    4. Yeah, the monster portraits look pretty good. The palette distracts from the finer detail. To me, visually, it's kind of like listening to a jazz band where one of the players is playing a very squeaky plastic saxophone. Even if the band is hot you still keep getting distracted by the squeaking.

    5. "Even if the band is hot you still keep getting distracted by the squeaking."

      My thoughts exactly when listening to Space Ritual and some other early Hawkwind records. I usually like the sax in rock music but I'll be damned if Nik Turner didn't try his best to make me feel otherwise.

  10. "Nothing breaks the immersion faster than having a character, in-game, refer to his world as "Module III.""

    Module is a pretty generic term, with the lack of a real backstory you could imagine the dungeons being modules of a spaceship or a failed arcology.

  11. I have to wonder if the Giant Garbage Cans, Flasks of Disease, Diseased Druggies, Chemical Bombs, and Cans of Toxic Waste are meant to have some sort of ecological theme. It's certainly the only explanation I can come up with for why there needs to be Giant Garbage Cans on every level. Actually, judging by all the legged objects, maybe they're the titlular Unforgiven and have been turned into monsters for their crimes against Eart or Earth?

    1. Not a bad fan theory, even if that's not what the author intended.

    2. Yeah, maybe if you play long enough you'll get a message "By you powers combined...".

  12. So, some comments on remaining content (since you didn't reach the end; killing the last boss in module 4 on Normal, ends the game in victory, so there is a victory screen; same applies to module 5 last boss on I can handle anything).

    -> The reason I prefer the priest over the mage, is Power Weapon II and Power Weapon III. They get them for 1 less spell point (7 and 9 respectively). They also get access to Resist Level Drain at I think level 4, and resist poison at 2 and disease at 3. As you find a lot of these monsters it really pays off.

    -> Power weapon also dramatically increases your hit chance, which for particularly fast foes, really pays off.

    -> Trap doors are a mixed bag. Sure they can help in a bind, but they always drop you at the same spot, and you get a key OR an attribute potion.

    -> Fighters can use magic paper, and get a free "relocate" effect on water floor sections (each module has one), when you can no longer "tunnel" anymore. Otherwise they are the only class that can use the Greatsword (which has fearsome damage output, but is less accurate than the Longsword/Mace, so not sure its that great of a weapon).

    -> Best way to handle boss floors, is to save up your rare item, Stone of Seeing and use them on the floor. That way you see the whole map AND you can avoid all the darn chutes.

    -> With level drainers, either blast them with a one-hit kill spell, use resist level drain (its like 80% likely to resist a drain) or have power weapon and hope you kill it first.

    -> You can age yourself to death. You only gain years by resting at the inn. So if you lack culture stock and are a spellcaster, you'll have to use Youth on yourself, and permanently lose 10 spell points. Old age does permanently also reduce CON, DEX and STR... but it boosts INT and WIS...

    ===== Comments on GIMLET =====
    -> I count the Snake at level up as an NPC. It starts to fear you after you hit level 25+.

    -> Enemies in Module 3+ do behave a bit differently than previous monsters. ie There is one section where every monster either poisons or diseases you. I tell you that section sucked as a Fighter. You also start encountering Fire foes and Cold foes, that appear to do more damage but the Anti-Fire and Anti-Cold spells don't do anything. The last module in the game, all the bosses level drain you, in addition to something else. Like last boss of Module 4 drains strength and levels with each hit. Also sucked for a Fighter.

    -> Combat is actually quite deep for such a simple system. You often have to weigh the benefit of fighting something or retreating from it. You might be able to kill something with ease, but... there is a level drainer 4 steps away, and if take the time to kill the first monster, it might catch up...

    -> Body Armor is like +3 enchant armor, per point, so that +9 body armor gives like +27 enchant armor, and stacks with your armor enchantment. Gauntlets massively increase hit chance by like +4 or +5 per point. So to say they are only minor benefits is a severe understatement. Choice of weapon is also important, as a Short Sword might allow you to attack twice before the enemy can act... so you attack, retreat, then wait to let them get closer and rinse/repeat and kite them death. Greatsword is slow and ponderous but hits like a freight train... if you connect the blow.

    1. Oh, @#$*ing hell. There's a victory screen after the fourth boss? AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

    2. Yep. You don't have to kill all the other bosses in the game, though it can certainly help. But once you kill the shadow demon prince on floor 80 of module 4, if it is normal difficulty, game ends immediately there. So, technically there is a victory screen, but usually if you survive module 1, you'll be able to push to victory (baring making foolhardy mistakes of course), so I'd still consider it a game completion. Most characters never survive module 1.

    3. "...killing the last boss in module 4 on Normal, ends the game in victory, so there is a victory screen; same applies to module 5 last boss on I can handle anything). "

      I played through this game on 'I can handle anything' difficulty and cleared module 5, and the game definitely does not end. You are given a few lines of text upon defeating the final boss (THE GREAT SHADOW OGEROTH) and a magical enchantment for your weapon, and then you just... continue playing. Perhaps there is something more substantive than this if you play on 'normal' difficulty and clear the 4th module, but I haven't done so and can't say.

    4. I feel you Chet, OTOH I think you really have seen enough of this to be done with it.

    5. Well, like a lot of things, I think the "I can handle anything" was added as an afterthought, and then not thoroughly tested. Which as it was early 90s, it was pretty hard to find public testers or even private testers as that wasn't even a job yet.

      Other things that I feel weren't well thought out:
      -> Massively increasing cost of inn and culture stock prices. If it was me, I'd clamp the values to like character level 10 for both. As you would be wasting most of your money on culture stock, I'd think that would be balanced.
      -> Not being able to visit the inn, at say a reduced price, if you were just resting to restore SP. The whole magic crystals was too much, as culture stock was expensive enough and you never regen spell points, so that would feel balanced to me.
      -> So many spells that didn't do anything, like anti-magic ring or anti-fire.
      -> Permanent spells that you could recover the spell points from, such as resting at the inn. Sure remove them permanently until you rest, but let people get them back. Otherwise why would you craft wands or scrolls?
      -> The need to convert cash to rubles. Also, weird how you convert American cash to Russian cash (ruble is russian). And then the currency limit too.
      -> Why so many classes had severe problems, and were basically unplayable. Like Monks, Wizards, and Worshippers. Sure, wizards and worshippers get tons of spell points, but once they are out, they are dead. And recovering literally hundreds of spell points at level 20+ without resting, takes forever with random spell point gains as loot.

      Overall not the best game, but when I played it, I got the demo version off a shovelware disc and it was one of the better games on that disc. Then about 7 years ago, I bought a copy of DOTU off a friend, and played the full game. I know it did complete at boss 4 in module 4 in Normal, but I was sure it did that same for boss 4 in module 5 on I can handle anything... but then again, haven't played the game in 7 years now.

    6. There is a video of the final bossfight in module 5

    7. This wouldn't be the first game to give a "Screw you play on the hardest difficulty" type of ending, so it's perfectly possible the normal ending is something along those lines

    8. The extensive "Strategy Guide" on gamefaqs does not mention any explicit winning screen. In fact, under "Objective" it states: "This game doesn't really have a set objective. There are 5 modules, and each module has several "Shadow" boss monsters. I would say that once you beat all or maybe the last of these you have beat the game? Of course you can keep playing after beating the last Shadow monster on the lowest level of the last module if you want to though."

      And the other "FAQ/Hints and Tips" document found there says under "Storyline of the game": "The game itself tells you that there's basically no plot. It's more an exercise to see how far you can get and how much money/power you can grab. There is no definitive ending."

      This is not to say there isn't some kind of message acknowledging you beat the final boss in Module IV, but it does not seem to have been very explicit / memorable. Unless it's only on "Normal" and they did not try that.

      There is also a speedrun in ICHA mode which seems to head directly for the Module V boss once the player is ready, though (haven't watched it, just checked extracts), so probably doesn't show the Module IV boss and in any case not on "Normal":

    9. What is "culture stock" even supposed to be? Is it bacterial?

      It's not an ogre, it's not an ogeroth, it's a shadow ogeroth!

      Palandus, I love how your friend was only willing to part with Moraff's Dungeons of the Unforgiven for a fee. Were they attached to it... or did they feel as though they deserved financial compensation for having played this game?

    10. Probably an anti-aging cream. Kind of like how these days you hear talk of stem cells doing the same thing.

      Some friends are dirty grubby like that. I had one friend in high school demand I pay him $30 for a burned copy of diablo 2... the copy did have the patch hack to make it playable offline, but still.

      If there is demand for something, some people will gouge people for as much as they can get.

    11. I have no idea what the normal mode of getting Diablo 2 was. I went to a bar one night my sophomore year of college and a promotor was just handing out copies. I ended up with six somehow.

    12. Well there was a feature in Diablo 2 that allowed you to "copy" the game, but the "copy" would have disabled so you could only play Singleplayer. Not that it mattered at the time, as my family only had 0.5 megabit connection, and you needed like 1-2 megabit to avoid de-syncs. I think the normal way back then was to buy it in box-stores; that is at least how I got my copy of Diablo 1... from a London Drugs I think.

  13. One thing I'd like to genuinely appreciate this game for is flipping the monster art to indicate movement. It indicates either the thoughtfulness to store two copies of the monster art just for extra variety, or the thought it takes for Moraff to write a bitmap-flipping routine - no small feat on the computers of the day. Wizardry VI did it too, so it's actually pretty extraordinary that an indie game was able to be graphically on-par with a title from just 3 years earlier.
    I was gonna say "in programming if not in art"... but honestly, it is. It at least has multiple colours of wall and multiple tilesets. I could rag on it all day for being so green and having you fight rainbow-coloured Giant Garbage Cans... but at least that's a step up from always having the same grey brick walls and fighting "humans" that are also grey-skinned. It's honestly surreal to think that even the shareware/freely-distributable BBS version of this game probably has more and bigger graphics than all of Wizardry VI did.
    It's also nice to see Moraff using the higher-resolution, same-colour-depth-as-EGA VGA mode. I'm not gonna say I prefer it over 256-colour normal-resolution VGA, but it's an interesting alternate-reality look at how the future of computer game graphics could have gone, and it's also nice to see people getting creative and properly appreciating every setting that was programmed into the graphics card. After a whole bunch of butt-ugly CGA games that at least used even the horrid brown-red-green-black setting and then a whole bunch if EGA games that refused to change their garish default/CGA-compatible palette (because of some "EGA" clone cards not implementing palette-changing, I think?), seeing Moraff using an ugly custom (16-colour?) VGA palette is still a sight for sore eyes.
    It's honestly sad that any "in-between" graphics technology didn't really have much of a foothold on DOS-based systems. It feels like almost every game skipped from 16-colour EGA with the default palette to 256-colour VGA overnight, when the Atari ST and Amiga showcased how creative and still-good-looking 16/32-colour palettes could be.
    I also, for instance, appreciate seeing how the Sega Master System (30) and Mega Drive (61) act as "in-between" graphics chips to the original Nintendo (25) and Super Nintendo (241?), similar to how the Atari ST (16) and Amiga (32 or 31 + copper gradients that change down the screen) kind of do that for default-palette EGA and 256-colour VGA DOS graphics chips.
    Duke Nukem II is the only EGA title that I know of that changed the palette, though if anyone knows of more I'd love to hear about them.

    1. Well I think some of the older FPSes did EGA palette change. Like Nitemare3D, Blake Stone and Corridor 7. But not fully sure.


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