Saturday, May 18, 2024

Game 515: Loremaster (1992)

It's like they left room for a subtitle that they ended up not using.
United States
Creative Software (developer and publisher)
Released 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 14 May 2024
Loremaster--if that's even its name--is an interesting find. Usually, 1992 is well out of the Dark Ages, and there's plenty of documentation about every title, its author, and its publisher. This one is a complete mystery. Its publisher (and perhaps developer), Creative Software of San Francisco, was only around long enough for this game. The documentation has been lost, and the specific author is unknown. [Ed. See my next entry for what we discovered about him.] The publisher had enough faith in it to sponsor a well-designed half-page ad in Computer Gaming World and a full-pager in PC Games.
It's an adventure/RPG hybrid in a similar mold as the Quest for Glory series; in fact, I'd be surprised if the author hadn't played at least Hero's Quest. As with the Sierra adventures, you navigate a series of indoor and outdoor screens in a "studio" (side-view) perspective and type verbs and nouns to interact with people and objects. The RPG elements come from non-deterministic combat, a small inventory, and a set of attributes, as well as experience and leveling. Beyond that are a lot of mysteries. I'm not prepared to say that it's a bad game, but the lack of documentation severely hurts the experience.

Given that it's a hybrid, my coverage will be paralleled by Morpheus Kitami's over at the Adventurers' Guild. I hope he has more luck with it.
The first point of confusion is the game's name. The ads suggest that it might have been intended as Send for the Loremaster, or that may have just been a tagline. The installation program calls it Loremaster I: Send for the Loremaster but the title-screen just calls it Loremaster, as does the "thank you for playing" screen that you get when you close the game.
This one even tells you that there's no main quest. Guess I'm done!
In any event, the titular Loremaster is not the PC. The backstory is that the Seven Kingdoms, ruled by King Yelraf (read it backwards) and Queen Tei, are under threat from a northern sorcerer named Gaiasbane. They've sent for the legendary Loremaster to deal with the sorcerer. The PC appears to be the son of a king that Gaiasbane conquered and killed.
Getting the backstory from the king and queen.
The default character is a mage named Myth. He's supposed to be only 28 years old when the game begins, but he looks 70. You can create your own character from fighter, mage, cleric, thief, sage, or merchant classes, although owing to incorrect in-game instructions, I didn't figure out how to do that until late in the session. The only option you get during creation is the character's name and a password to use when you LOGON to that character.
The game starts you with default values in IQ, wisdom, age, level, stamina, strength, armor, agility, karma, piety, experience, and life (represented as a percentage). Unlike most games, you don't start at Level 1. Myth is Level 58 as the game begins. The fighter I created started at Level 27. Just as the characters gain experience from successful actions, they can lose it (and levels) from unsuccessful ones, including death.
I need to do some more experimentation, but I think multiple characters can occupy the world at the same time. When I had one character kill a spider, then logged in as a different character, the same spider was dead. On the other hand, characters never encounter each other on the same screen, and they get the same dialogue from NPCs. Maybe the slain king had multiple sons. The game saves the world and character state every time you transition screens, I think. There's no option to save manually or reload if something goes poorly. You can delete and add characters whenever you want, but if you want to start completely over, you have to reload the entire game. This focus on a persistent world state with multiple characters makes me think the author had exposure to a MUD.
Loremaster starts with Myth standing on a bluff overlooking the town. The view shows the relative positions of the castle, general store, and church. This is the only screen that I've found so far that's non-interactive. The character cannot walk across the screen or interact with its objects. All he can do is move  north or south to much smaller areas.
The opening screen.
On all other screens, you can move the character about the screen with the numberpad or mouse. You can walk up to specific objects and creatures. The interface is reasonably well-programmed. Right-clicking the mouse cycles the cursor through movement, drop, attack, look, cast, pick up, detect trap, check status, rest, and meditate options; again, this is much like Quest for Glory. The player can also activate these commands by typing them, but for some actions (look, principally), you definitely want the cursor. 
Commands include most of what you'd expect, including ASK, ATTACK, CAST, GIVE, PUSH, and READ, and TAKE. Most commands use simple verb-object or verb-subject-object constructions like TAKE LAMP or ASK YELRAF SWORD. Most words can be abbreviated to three letters; CAS GRI will cast the prepared spell at a griffon. The author wrote HELP text for every command, and as a bonus, all of the text in the game gets dumped into a text file in the game's directory, so you can review everything an NPC or the game itself has said at any time. More games could use that feature.
All of this sounds fairly straightforward, but then we get into a number of oddities:
  • There doesn't appear to be any distinction between enemies and NPCs. They're all just beings. Sometimes, they'll talk to you and offer advice; sometimes, they attack you for what seems like no reason. The latter is particularly true if you get up into their space. The merchant attacked me when I first entered his store because I got too close.
  • You can fight NPC/enemies with weapons and spells. Myth is powerful enough at the beginning to kill almost anything with ICE and FIRE spells. When an enemy dies, sometimes its ghost appears and harasses you. Often, a lighting bolt comes down and somehow resurrects it.
Moments before the spider gets hit by lightning and comes back to life.
  • If the character gets killed, his body slinks to the ground. After a few seconds, you can type JUDGE, and the game will resurrect you at the cost of a few levels. But if you're right next to an enemy, he might just kill you again. If this happens several times in a row, the game will kick you back to DOS and force you to take a break. When you reload, you're back at the starting screen, albeit weaker.
  • I have to explore more with magic, but it seems insanely powerful. You prepare a spell with INCANT and the name of the spell, then CAST it at a specific monster or character; for instance, INCANT SLEEP and CAST BASALISK [sic]. Spells include straight-out DEATH as well as FIRE, ICE, LIGHTING, FEAR, SLEEP, WEAK, and HEAL, and you have all of them from the beginning of the game. TELEPORT will take you to any known NPC, and SUMMON will bring any NPC to you. I used it to bring Gaiasbane to me, two steps from the beginning, although he just proceeded to kill me repeatedly while I was powerless to touch him.
I try to force the final battle too soon.
  • Judicious use of ASK will get you a lot of information from NPCs, but I can't find any way to interact with them other than asking and occasionally answering if they ask you a question.There's no generic TALK or SAY command.
  • The game makes it hard to map by putting stone walls in the middle of some screens. There are also passages to caves and other underworld locations at what seem like random spots. Also traps.
That's an effective trap.
  • You find buildings. When you enter, the game doesn't move you to an entirely new screen, but takes you half-off the outdoor screen that had the doorway, using only the upper third of the screen to depict the indoors. This means that all indoor areas are long and thin and kind of squashed.
I started mapping the game to get a sense of its overall territory. At first, I just did it with large single blocks in Excel, but I kept getting hung up on walls and I settled on a more complex method in which every screen was represented by 9 smaller blocks, allowing me to draw walls that cut through a particular screen. This approach worked somewhat, but I soon realized I'll be mapping forever if I continue with this. The best I can figure, the game has at least 500 screens, not counting all of the underground and indoor areas that I haven't even begun to explore [Ed. This turned out to be a laughable overestimate. It has 105 top world screens and fewer than that in the underworld.] A lot of the screens use similar elements--boulders, flowers, trees--but I haven't seen any exact duplicates.
Note that I'm stuck on the east side of the wall.
So I gave up comprehensively mapping and just tried to get a sense of the best way to approach the start of the game. I started over with a thief character. The game has two character images: a big brawny guy (thief and fighter) and the mage we've been seeing (everyone else). The thief started with no equipment and 211 coins at Level 22. He's 31 years old. As expected, his best statistic is agility (70), but he's so dumb he can barely move (intelligence and wisdom at 7).
Chester's almost-starting statistics. I forgot to take a shot right after creation.
In my previous hours with the game, I hadn't found any weapons lying around on the ground, so I headed for the general store to buy something. On the way, I met a faerie, but I couldn't get anything interesting out of him.
Sounds fair.
The shop is run by a guy named Butterman. He tells me he can sell weapons or armor. He suggests I see Francis, the cleric, about spiritual issues and Iseult, the Oracle, about the past and future. She can be found "through the old forest," a dangerous journey west. Francis is to the east. Gerald, the king's last loyal guard, is to the northeast. A farmer named Samwise is "way up north"; he tells stories about little green men. Butterman doesn't trust Iseult's lover, Tristan, who he's seen "lurking about" talking about "synchronasticity."

He fills in a bit of background about the main quest. He talks of trouble up north, the weather turning sour, and no more visitors coming from that direction. Rains have turned green and acid and kill plants. He's confident the Loremaster will turn up and straighten things out. He refers to Yelraf's kingdom as the Kingdom of Law and Justice. If it seems rather empty, he says, it's because most folks have fled the coming apocalypse.

Conversation turns to weapons. He says he has swords for fighters, maces for clerics, and staves for mages. I guess of the three, I'm closest to a fighter. I can't get him to say anything about the cost, so I just try BUY SWORD. It works, except the sword costs 930 coins, and I'm now 741 coins in debt. He won't let me repeat the process with armor, though.
If you owe the merchant 10 gold, that's your problem; if you owe him 741 gold, that's his problem.
I ready the sword and head out, noting that the conversation increased Chester's intelligence by 1 point. I'll have to keep an eye on what actions have what effects on what statistics. 
On a nearby screen, I decide to try out my sword by attacking a giant spider, but the game won't let me. It just says, "Hmmm, you do have a mean streak in you." Maybe you have to get attacked first.
Yes, please let me express it.
I head up to the castle, the facade of which takes up three screens. The front door is in the center, and banners reading "Law" and "Justice" are to the east and west. The door takes me to a single room in which both King Yelraf and Queen Tei sit. They mostly repeat what Butterman already told me, and what I related in the backstory. My karma increases by 10 from the conversation.
"Big boy"?!
While looking for Francis and the church, I run into a dragon. She isn't hostile, though she warns me that many of her kin will be. She offers a riddle:

I am of glowing soft moonlight,
    yet hidden from the mooman's sight.
From deep and dark and airs demand,
    in softness held, the end of sand . . .
Tell me what this treasure be,
    adored by her of land and sea
I get it right with PEARL and the dragon increases my magic ability by 1. I didn't even know that was a statistic. I don't see it anywhere. 
Gerald is clear about his place in the world.
I find Gerald before I find Francis. He's guarding a door next to a building in the northeast section of town. For a PLEASE, he trains me and increases my fighting ability by 1. The building behind Gerald has what looks like a mound and a cross. These dot the landscape. I took them as graves at first, but I guess they're piles of treasure. In this case, the game tells me that they're ancient coins. But when I try to take them, it won't let me, so I don't know what that's about. 
At the west end of this indoor area, I trigger a fire trap, then fall down to an underground area. It seems to be part of a multi-screen network, but I'm on the other side of a wall, and I can't get into the main area. I trigger a sleep trap, and while I'm asleep, a basilisk comes along and kills me. The game resurrects me, but one level lower and eight years older. I manage to kill the basilisk, though, which returns my level and increases my strength. And my karma is a whopping 510 (from around 40 before), so I don't even know what that attribute is measuring.
Just let me die!
I find the church, enter, and pray at the altar, which gives me 1 wisdom and 10 piety. 
The front door of the church.
Francis is in the west wing of the church. He's a little full of himself: "My faith combined with [Iseult's] foresight are the vengeance with which we hold back the flow of decay and ruin from the North." It's from him that I first learn the name "Gaiasbane" for the evil sorcerer who has caused the acid rain. Samwise has somehow managed to defy the sorcerer by keeping his own lands green and fertile.

Francis also confirms that my parents were the rulers of the northern kingdom most recently conquered by Gaiasbane. He says my mother's name was Astrid, and they were very devoted to each other. Iseult can tell me more about them. Their kingdom might have been called the Kingdom of Peace and Tranquility. Isn't that nice?

He further states that there's only one weapon powerful enough to defeat Gaiasbane, and it lies in the caverns below, called the Caverns of Carthos. The caverns are guarded by a banshee named Banesthrall, an apprentice to Gaiasbane. "Find and defeat Banesthrall and you will find the key to defeating the Sorcerer," he concludes. He also wants me to recover his grail, which he thinks was taken by a fire elemental.
"Gaiasbane" is a little too on-the-nose.
At some point during the conversation, I make a typo and it causes me to attack Francis. He kills me immediately, and when I come back to life, I've lost a level but also 14 years off my age. This game is just weird sometimes.

I think I'll leave it there for now and see if Morpheus Kitami had any more luck making sense of things. Keep watching both of our blogs for continued coverage.
Time so far: 4 hours
Playing out of: Curiosity. 


  1. "NO predefined storyline to follow!"
    "A storyline full of allegories, fun, and adventure!"

    Could they not make up their minds on that one?

    1. I like that both of those ad blurbs appear right next to each other. It's not like they forgot and wrote those on two different ads!

  2. AlphabeticalAnonymousMay 18, 2024 at 1:52 PM

    This one sounds delightfully surreal. "[R]educed a level and eight years older" made me laugh out loud. I'll be very interested to see how this one progresses!

  3. "We don't know the author"

    Might I suggest that we start our search by looking for a "Farley"...

    1. Glenn Farley is credited as the designer in a short review in the December 1992 issue of "Computer Game Review and CD-ROM Entertainment". (Not linking in case blogspot doesn't like URLs.)

    2. Finally, that rag is good for something. :) Truthfully, I only ever bought that magazine when someone else was paying. I was usually disappointed, usually by their judgement calls.

      In the previous issue, they gave Clouds of Xeen a 91%, which you can compare to Chet's score of 43 on this blog. In the same issue as Loremaster, they give LA Law an 81%. Check out the score of 30 on the TAG blog. Those are some big differences in opinion.

      That magazine makes me question the release date, however. The first ad for the game I saw in this mag was the month before, in November 1992. The review was December 1992. So even though the game has a 1991 copyright date, it was most likely a 1992 release. Which makes the statement early in this post even more perplexing.

    3. A GIMLET of 43 and a contemporary rating of 91% aren't really at odds.

    4. Yes, my bad for not better wording. I skimmed the text, and they glossed over stuff that was criticized here, and so on. Reading Chet's review makes it more of a 70% game elsewhere, and that's about how his score represents it.

    5. I actually thought I had identified the author and he was named something else, so I figured "Farley" was someone he knew. This new intelligence really helps. Thanks, pdw. I searched but somehow missed this.

    6. This announcement in the May-June 1992 issue of Enchanted Realms said it was scheduled for an end of March release which supports Michael's theory above of it being published only in 1992.

    7. I understand from this short biography page Glenn (Francis) Farley was president of Creative Software Corporation. He filed the trademark "Loremaster" for computer game software in March 1991 and the name "Creative Software" was filed in May. To me this sounds like a typical one-person operation, so him being both creator / developer and publisher & distributor. As you write below that you found the likely "producer", Chet, maybe that's all already old news for you.

      Maybe someone more versed in US / California law can shed some light on the meaning of this page, regarding a 2010 (!?) dispute between Glenn Farley and Creative Software Corporation about dissolution of a corporation (which apparently was settled)?

      Also, there is a double-page review of the game in this Italian magazine from 1993. Haven't sent the text through a translation tool yet.

  4. Using phrases like "very serious wounds" to roughly quantify damage dealt is also something I distinctly remember from MUDs.

    This seems like a really cool, ambitious game idea that was beyond the abilities of the developer to realize. I respect that, but 1992 was a great year for big ambitious CRPGs which largely achieved their goals.

  5. Good thing Banesthrall scored that apprentice gig with Gaiasbane. It must have been awkward before they met, like being named Mr. District Attorney and being a plumber.

  6. Whilst poking around in the executable for a command list, I came across the following bizarre phrase (rot13):
    V srry gur cerfrapr bs zl ybat ybfg orwrjryyrq fgnyntzvgr.
    Wish that I could say the same.

  7. Another game that is just weird? This should be good.

  8. I can't even imagine how movement works in this game from just looking at the screenshot

    1. Depending on a screen, what happens is the other character moves one tile, then the player moves, one tile at a time, by typing the letter of a cardinal direction. (Mouse movement is awkward at the edges of the screen) On other screens, the enemy goes towards the player in whatever way it thinks won't get it killed, sometimes multiple moves, sometimes not. There are keyboard controls for movement, but the manual the manual is hard enough to find that I don't think either of us knew until these posts went live.

  9. You'd think that, even if it had been produced in small numbers, a manual would survive somewhere.

    A guy on RPGWatch apparently had one, but the post is from 2007: . Maybe the user still exists.

    1. A little more digging, and nothing. But one copy of the game I came across on a "warez" CD image had a text file with the controls, probably copied from the manual. The curious part was this one had yet ANOTHER alternate subtitle for the game.

      Loremaster 1: The Sender of the Loremaster

      They really couldn't decide, could they?

    2. It sounds like he went down the same investigative path that I did. I also found the likely "producer," but I've gotten no replies to my contact.

      The .txt file is with the version of the game I found online. Yes, it does explain some of the controls. It's not a full manual, though. I think that alternate subtitle is a mistake but the cracker who wrote the text file and not the original authors.

  10. "It's like they left room for a subtitle that they ended up not using."

    Loremaster: Search For The

  11. The artwork for the full page ad is fantastic. Not only technically competent (as far as I can tell), it looks very dynamic and there's a lot of detail. The guy in the middle (a messenger or assassin?) has an an arrow in his back. Some people are rushing in, others recoiling in panic. The mage at the side just ponders the whole situation... and the pattern that frames the ad has been worked into the picture in a lot of places: carpets, flags, dresses, doors, wall decorations...

    1. It's anachronistic, but the guy in the very lower right inescapably reminds me of the pointing soyjak.

  12. "SUMMON will bring any NPC to you."

    Can you just "summon Loremaster"?


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