Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Game 496: Dungeons and Demons (1984)

There is, in fact, only one dungeon and one demon (a frost demon).
Dungeons and Demons
United States
Bytes and Bits (developer and publisher)
Released 1984 for Commodore 64
Date Started: 29 October 2023
Date Ended: 29 October 2023
Total Hours: 3
Difficulty: Very Easy-Easy (1.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
Dungeons and Demons is a very basic RPG from Phoenix-based developer Craig Thompson. It's manifestly based on Daniel Lawrence's DND, or some variant of it, but stripped down so that only the most basic elements remain. There are type-in games that offer more.
For character creation, the game randomly rolls numbers between 4 and 17 for maximum strength, wisdom, and dexterity. No re-rolling is allowed. The player chooses from dwarf, warrior, halfling, thief, elf, and wizard classes. I didn't try them all out. The big difference is that elves and wizards get spells to cast in combat and the other classes do not. Thieves get an option called "Attack from Behind." I suspect the other classes vary in their success and failure rates with the other combat options, as below.
My winning character.
After creation, the character is taken to a shop to purchase starting weapons and armor from a limited amount of gold.
The weapon list. It doesn't take long to save up for that great sword.
After the character is saved to disk, the game begins on Level 1 of a 12-leveled dungeon of 10 x 10 squares per level. Almost immediately, the player is attacked by a variety of enemies and finds random amounts of treasure. This DND game upholds the customs of its lineage in that physical position in the dungeon matters only for the stairways up and down. Everything else is random. Since exiting the dungeon is the only way to restore strength (i.e., hit points), early players can just stand beneath the hole leading upward and move back and forth. Every move into a new room carries a chance of a random treasure or encounter.
Exploring and fighting.
The game looks like it uses a 3-D interface, but it's a false one. The facing direction never changes. Using the IJKM cluster moves you in those directions instead of turning. One of the more annoying aspects of the game is that there's no way to tell without moving whether there's a door behind you (south). The layout is identical for every game.
The monster list has maybe 20-25 entries drawn from the standard Dungeons & Dragons bestiary: orcs, kobolds, bugbears, basilisks, carrion crawlers, gargoyles, werebears, medusas, green dragons, and so forth. I thought "thouls" were original to the game, but it turns out they come from D&D, too. One cute option on the main menu is the ability to view each foe and their statistics.
Studying the monster list.
Enemies are really just names and attack and defense statistics. None of the enemies that ought to have special attacks (e.g., ghouls, basilisks, green dragons) ever use them. They're just sacks of hit points to be depleted. The experience rewards you get for each kill are extremely variable and don't seem to have anything to do with the difficulty or length of the battle.
The result of a successful "communicate."
In combat, you have a variety of options depending on the class:
  • Evade (flee)
  • Attack
  • Communicate
  • Attack from behind (thieves)
  • Cast a spell (elves and wizards)
The cutest little green dragon.
Spells are:
  • "Teleport": Automatic escape from combat.
  • "Magic Ladder": Automatic escape up to the previous level.
  • "Charm Monster": Equivalent to a kill if it works.
  • "Sleep": Equivalent to a kill if it works.
  • "Magic Web": Equivalent to a kill if it works.
  • "Magic Missile": If it doesn't always kill in one shot, I never experienced it.
  • "Disintegrate": Instant kill
  • "Fire Ball": Instant kill
  • "Lightning Bolt": Instant Kill
Preparing to cast a spell against an enemy who's just asking for it.
Spells take their spell number minus one directly from strength (e.g., "Magic Web" costs 4 points; "Teleport" is free). Because of this, and since they have the same outcomes, I'm not sure why you'd cast "Lightning Bolt" instead of "Charm Monster" unless the latter has a lower success rate. I didn't play long enough as a wizard to get a feel for this.
The relative difficulty of attack actions and spells is moot because the statistics are overwhelmingly favorable to the player. Level 1 characters can get killed, sure, but not with the same malevolence as the typical DND derivative. You reach Level 2 at 2,000 experience points, Level 3 at 5,000, and so forth. Every level up comes with increases directly to the attributes. By the time you have a dexterity of 16 or higher, enemies hardly ever hit you in combat. By the time you have a dexterity of 20 or more, they simply never hit you. Late in the game, I actively tried to get my character killed so I could take a "death" screenshot, and not only could I not do it, I couldn't even get him to lose a single hit point. These facts coupled with the ability to reload a lost character makes the game incredibly easy.
The first dungeon level. The game advertises "1200 rooms," so you'd think those four squares in the southeast would have to be used, but I couldn't find any way in there.
The economy also ceases to be of any use about 10% into the game, when you have enough gold for the best weapon and armor that your class will allow (you can re-visit the shop when you exit the dungeon to heal and save). Most games in the DND line let you convert gold to experience, but this one does not.
The goal of the game is to find a Golden Chalice on the 12th and final level of the dungeon. I'm not sure if the chalice position changes for each game. I was already immortal before I even hit Level 2, so most of the game for me was just working my way through the levels and trying to find the stairs downward. It took me about 2 hours. 
Another win!
Bytes and Bits seems to have been owned by Craig Thompson and/or his brother Carl Thompson. They had a small selection of other titles, including an adventure game called Adventure Island, a platformer called Crazy Conveyors, and a dice game called Goombahtz. They must not have done all that well, as I can't find any mention of the company after 1984.
An ad in the June 1984 Compute!
I give Dungeons and Demons 14 on the GIMLET, a string of 0s, 1s and 2s. By 1984, the DND line had been surpassed by better games, and this is not even one of the better DND games. A $30 price tag was a bit steep for a game of such limited content, particularly for such a well-serviced platform.


  1. I wonder who (would have) bought such a game back in the day. As you mention, the C64 was a well-served platform which by 1984 already offered many much higher-quality games. GB64 lists 4350 entries for 1984 and mobygames still has more than 900, among them many I regard as classics (which could lead me going off on a tangent, but I'll restrict myself here unless others want to reminiscence).

    Even if one was focused on CRPGs, there was a wide array of better examples on the C64 out there by then as one can tell by looking at your own lists, starting with the first three Ultima and Wizardry games, respectively. So it's not like for owners of more 'exotic' platforms where you just would have to take whatever was available at all to satisfy your CRPG cravings. Plus by 1984 I understand there should have been enough publications and mouth to mouth propaganda around for most people to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff on such a popular platform.

    Which leaves price as the one factor I could imagine playing a role (possible pun intended). But as you also say, USD 30 is steep for what's on offer here. Of course you don't know that until you've bought and tried it, but how many potential buyers would spend their hard-earned and -saved 1984 USD 30 based on such an ad when for less than USD 10 more you could e.g. have Questron which was released on the C64 the same year or maybe one of the abovementioned games whose price I assume would have gone down enough by 1984 to get them new or used instead? You'd really have to be a CRPG Addict.

    1. No kidding! Tunnels of Doom on the TI was released in 1982 and is much more compelling than this release. Honestly, I would have considered it bad shareware by that time given what else one could come across.

  2. BTW and off-topic, the Questron ads on mobygames include the mention "PG / This game rated Positively great / Ideal for Fantasy Adventurers of all ages." I wonder how many kids were fooled by that... . But also to what extent the MPA film rating system was used in connection with computer / video games. From a series of articles on The Digital Antiquarian I learned how the ESRB (and for a while in parallel RSAC) ratings came into being, but that was only in 1994.

    1. Wasteland was described by the developers as being "rated PG-13" which as far as I can tell was more of a marketing ploy than an attempt to rate the content

  3. If 'thouls' wasn't just a misspelling of 'ghouls', then what are they exactly?

    1. "Magical combination of hobgoblin, troll, and ghoul."

      This person explains that they look like hobgoblins but they can paralyze you and they can regenerate, so a hobgoblin with a nasty trap.

      (They have a theory that it was created as a typo and then someone came up for stats for it.)

    2. They annoy you to death by speaking in Ultima English

    3. @VK: LOL. Usually encountered in groups together with other monsters having the same modus operandi, like methousas and bugtheebears.

    4. Maybe it's a heathen monster with a bad lisp. Ath though, they have no thoul...

    5. Thou hast lost an eighth, VK!

    6. Thouls have a weird history in D&D. They originally appeared in later printings of the original D&D boxed set due to a printing error or a typo - an entry on the dungeon random encounter tables was meant to say Toad, but somehow ended up as Thoul. Later writers took this and ran with it, but it's a monster that only exists because of a happy accident

    7. As VK describes them, they probably originated on the island of Ultima Thoule.

    8. We need a like button for that one VK!!!

  4. Not much to say about this one...any special plans for game no. 500?

    1. I'm sure he's thrilled to be asked about that again ;-). But never fear! I've had access to Chet's secret plans and here, as a world exclusive first, are the options he's currently considering for game 500:

      - Replay the complete Fate - Gates of Dawn on era-appropriate original hardware to authentically relive the loading times people experienced back in the day, after his much too rushed initial playthrough.

      - Dive into GCLM Anime Adventure Hentai! Construction Kit - also affectionately known as 'GAAH!' to real fans like Chet - released on a short-lived obscure Japan-only console, of course in its original Japanese version.

      - Tackle - in a celebratory single gigantic combined session of several weeks non-stop gaming - those additional 500 Crystalware and type-in games certain commenters have unearthed recently and added on mobygames' RPG list because someone in a Usenet chat in May 1985 wrote he had heard from a neighbour's friend they are probably RPGs.

    2. @Busca You made my day, thanks

    3. And option 3 would have the additional effect of catapulting the blog from game 500 to game 1000 in no time! ;-)

  5. When I played this a while back, I was able to enter the four corner squares somehow (I think I went to the level below and cast "Magic Ladder" up). There was nothing obviously special about those rooms.


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