Sunday, May 26, 2024

Loremaster: Death is Cheap

A typical day with Loremaster.
I bumbled around a bit more with my fighter character and got nowhere except to lose a bunch of levels from dying in combat. I fiddled around with Myth (the default character) for a while, trying some things that I'll talk about a bit later. 
I created a new mage character called Chester, who starts at Level 20 (compared to the default character, Myth, at Level 57). I began by going to Butterman, the general store owner, and buying some leather armor. Mages cannot cast spells with anything in their hands, so there's no point arming one with a weapon. I exhausted Butterman's dialogue options like last time.
A new character begins.
I then returned to the castle and exhausted dialogue options with King Yelraf (or Emperor Yelraf; the game is inconsistent) and Queen Tei. I discovered that there's more to the castle than the entrance where Yelraf and Tei stand. But "more" doesn't mean "worthwhile": one door takes you to a Daliesque nightmare that includes piles of food you can't pick up for some reason; the other takes you to a garden that has at least three "Sleep" traps, which put you to sleep for literal minutes real-time. There are traps all over this game. As far as I can tell, they're undetectable and unavoidable, and they make little sense. Who puts a fire trap in the middle of a field?
The game let me wake up after about four minutes.
I headed for Francis and Gerald, passing by a number of monsters on the way. Almost every screen in this game that doesn't have an NPC has a monster--beasties, basilisks, slimes, spiders, wraiths, manticores, dragons. They seem to be curiously non-hostile at the beginning of the game, or at least around the castle area.  
I also found a screen with a bunch of chests. An illusory wall let me in. I tried OPEN CHEST a number of times, but the game just kept saying, "You are talking to yourself!" I assumed it thought I was using CHEST as an abbreviation for "Chester," so I switched to Myth to get him to open the chest and just drop the items on the ground. But the game said the same thing when he tried to open the chest. 
I tried a few other options, but nothing worked. I figured I could at least take the item on the ground that the game identified as a GOLDRING. (I've learned through practice that the game doesn't recognize spaces in item names or other keywords.) But even when I was standing right on top of it, the game insisted that it "could not be taken!" 
What. The. Hell.
Moving on, I re-converse with Francis. To recap, his major pieces of intelligence are that to defeat Gaiasbane, I'll need a special weapon from the caverns below, guarded by a banshee called Banesthrall. Francis has also recently lost his Grail; he suspects it was stolen by a fire elemental who also lives in the caverns. He thinks that the Loremaster will have to go through three trials, one of which will earn him a holy book (HOLYBOOK). Francis trains me 4 points in cleric abilities. 
NPCs keep giving me these number sequence puzzles.
I then visit Gerald, the king's guardsman again, and had him train me 1 point in fighting ability, then exhausted my combat options with him.
At this point, I was caught up on everything that I'd done already. It was time to do something new. I pointed myself west, looking for the Oracle, Iseult. On the way, I talk to the dragon I spoke to before, and I realized that not only are all the monsters near the castle non-hostile; they'll all talk to the character (although many have nothing useful to say).
At least he's not attacking me.
I find the first hostile creature--a spider--a few screens west of the castle, in the middle of what looks like an impenetrable ring of stone walls. He shows me he's hostile by hitting me, which completely destroys the leather armor that I put myself in debt to buy. I save (which requires backing up all the game files, since it saves automatically) and reload a few times so I can get some experience with combat. To cast spells you have to first INCANT them. So casting a "Fire" spell at a spider means typing INCANT FIRE and then CAST SPIDER. You have to be relatively close when you cast. Fortunately, once the spell is incanted, you can use the mouse to cast it, so you don't fumble the spelling while in the middle of combat.
I blast the spider, kill it, and go up to Level 31. I cross the walled area, setting off a trap on the way, and before I make it to the other side, a bolt of lightning comes down and resurrects the spider. I later determine that this happens a lot. When it doesn't happen, the enemy is immediately replaced by another enemy. The game will not let you "clear" a screen. 
This world's god has an exasperating sense of humor.
While trying to find the oracle, I fall down into a cave. A spider immediately kills me. Most enemies kill me in just one hit. I reload and flee from the spider, finding Banesthrall in the cavern to the west. I already know I can't defeat him (more below), so I just quit and reload.
I feel like I'm here prematurely.
Moving around in this game is a nightmare. You get hung up on everything. Screens that look like they have open exits in some direction turn out to have none because there's no path free of boulders, tree roots, and so forth. Other screens that have hard stone walls at the edges turn out to have illusory doors. There are a lot of holes to the underworld hidden behind walls or stones, so you're constantly falling down there and having to find a way out.
I don't believe I can cross this screen to engage this oddly-articulate slime.
Further attempts to get to the Oracle keep resulting in my deaths at the fangs of spiders or the spells of wraiths. Finally, in frustration, I just INCANT TELEPORT and CAST ISEULT to go directly to her. I expect it to reduce my levels to almost 0, because it always reduced Myth's level when I cast it, but instead it rockets me to Level 57. This game makes no sense.
Iseult is spectacularly unhelpful. Despite other NPCs telling otherwise, she has nothing to say about my parents or their kingdom ("Speak to the emperor if your interest lies in political matters"). When I ask her about MAGIC, she gives me the old sphinx riddle. I answer MAN, and she increases my magic ability by 2. She otherwise just repeats stuff that I already know about needing to get a weapon from the caverns below. Then she turns inexplicably hostile in the middle of our conversation and kills me, forcing me to reload. 
Iseult gives me the world's oldest riddle.
At this point, I'll break from Chester's adventure to relate a little screwing around that I did with Myth before restoring the game from a backup. Knowing that I can TELEPORT to any NPC whose name I know, I tried teleporting first to Samwise the farmer. I otherwise have no idea how to reach his farm. He attributes his ability to keep his farm going despite the acid rain to his luck and the patronage of the Green Lady. 
Well, I wouldn't know, Sam.
I then warped myself to Tristan, Iseult's lost lover. It turns out he's trapped in a cave, turned into a statue by an earth elemental (EARTHELEMENT) who thinks Tristan stole his jeweled stalagmite. Tristan protests that he didn't steal it, but the earth elemental trusts the "great, good, and wise" sage who told him of the theft: Gaiasbane. I otherwise can't do anything to free Tristan, but between the elemental and the other NPCs, that's three sub-quests I need to solve: find Tei's missing cloak, find Francis's grail, and find the earth elemental's jeweled stalagmite.
The earth elemental refuses to release Tristan.
I already know where Banesthrall is, so there's no point teleporting to him, but I do try (with SUMMON) teleporting him to the castle with Yelraf and Tei. I know that the king and queen can kill almost anything. Unfortunately, they can't even hit Banesthrall, who exists in some kind of ethereal form. There must be some spell or weapon specific to him.
I guess we're at a standstill.
Teleporting myself to Gaiasbane shows that he exists in a ring of stone somewhere. He kills me immediately and re-kills me every time I'm resurrected, before I can take any action at all. Teleporting him to Yelraf and Tei is no more successful than teleporting Banesthrall to them, as Gaiasbane only dies to that special weapon.
For the second game in a row, I'm able to reach the endgame boss but not defeat him.
Now, there is a way to cheese the SUMMON spell to kill Gaiasbane and end the game prematurely. I've done it, which means I've technically won. But I've only done it because I watched a YouTube video in which someone did it as part of a speedrun. It's a bit annoying that the only video that exists for this game is a speedrun. The author clearly must have known the game well to hit upon this particular solution, which means he probably has the manual, but he has not responded to a message I left. However, with only a little bit more intelligence from an NPC, it's plausible that I could have figured out this solution on my own. More on that for the final entry. I wanted a "win" in my pocket, even a cheating one, in case Morpheus Kitami and I jointly decide that the game simply isn't playable. Make sure you check out his coverage at The Adventurers' Guild, by the way. 
In case I can't win some other way.
Let's talk a little about what we've discovered about the game's origins. I had done some sleuthing and found another company using the same P.O. box in San Francisco that Creative Software was using at the same time. I assumed the owner of that company must be the author. But after my first entry, P-Tux7 pointed out that the author was probably named "Farley," and pdw confirmed that it was Glenn Farley based on information in a Computer Game Review and CD-ROM Entertainment issue from December 1992.
Busca got some more information about Glenn Farley, showing he was born in 1953, making him 39 at the time of the game's release, which I am persuaded was in 1992, not 1991 as originally reported. The same source shows him as president of Creative Software, but later there's a record of a lawsuit between him and Creative Software, so either he wasn't the owner (the owner may be the person I originally identified) or some other weird legal thing was happening there. Either way, emails to potential candidates have not been returned.
It's premature to look at reviews, but let's do so anyway. The aforementioned Computer Game Review gave it 56 percent--the average of scores ranging from 45 to 65. I'm glad to see that one of the reviewer's experience mirrors mine: "Combat is virtually unplayable, since any monster that attacks you kills you instantly." They had other comments about the poor interface and graphics and gave their highest scores to the manual, of all things. Boy, it would sure be nice to have it.
Busca also turned up a 53% review from the July 1993 Videogame & Computer World, an Italian magazine. I didn't translate the entire thing, but the opening paragraph calls it an "impeccable atrocity" and the concluding line is: "If you love RPGs, don't be enchanted by the title and avoid the purchase!"
I believe this is a complete map of the surface world. Click to enlarge.
Back to the game. Unsatisfied with my progress this session, I returned to the map and managed to map the entirety of the topworld (I think). It's an odd 21 x 5. The right half is mostly the town, although I did find Samwise's farm outside the north walls of the town. I was also able to find the Oracle's place and even the tower in which Gaiasbane is waiting (it only looks like a stone circle on the inside).
Gaiasbane's tower.
A few notes:
  • There are some places in the corners where you can leave the map onto an endless sea of blank screens in which you can only move east-west. Inevitably, you get blocked by an enemy and have to turn back.
This beastie stops me from exploring endlessly eastward. Even if I kill him, his bones will stop me.
  • There are so many holes going to the underworld that I stopped trying to annotate them.
  • I started naming the screens after the monsters I found there, but it turns out that they're not fixed.
  • Although a lot of the screens have interesting patterns of walls, boulders, trees, or flowers, I couldn't find anything to do on most of them. There's one odd screen in the southwest in which you get chastised for walking over flowers, as if someone's speaking to you, but I couldn't find anything out.
Who is talking here?
I'll keep going and explore the underworld, hoping to make the connection necessary to win legitimately. All I need is for someone to tell which NPC carries the weapon that will kill Gaiasbane. I suspect I'll win this purely as an adventure game, though, meaning that I won't really be trying to build my character, find money, and buy more stuff (not that there's anything else for a wizard to buy). The RPG parts of the game are just too weird: you start at a high level, you gain and lose levels unpredictably, and enemies just kill you in one hit no matter how powerful you are. What a weird game.
Time so far: 8 hours
Playing out of: Bemusement. 


  1. If you are interested, a full playthrough is available on twitch. It was done on 5/7 to 5/9 in 2019, about 12 hours in 4 consecutive videos.

    1. And more than that, somebody in his Discord community got in touch with the widow and son of Glenn Francis Farley:

      It's not entirely clear if they ever got a full copy of the manual...

    2. This is so aggravating. I'd love to be able to watch the videos, but every time I try to start one, an ad plays for 1 second and then freezes. The site won't let me watch the video until I watch the ad, and then it won't let me watch the-ad.

      This is the same guy who later did the speedrun on YouTube, though, so it makes sense.

    3. Sounds like something an adblocker can fix. Can't have broken ads if the ads aren't there in the first place!

    4. If you use the Brave browser and watch the videos through the youtube website, all ads are blocked, including the ads that play like commercials within a video. Super long time lurker, first comment.

    5. another option is to download the videos using untwitch (dot com). You can only download in hour-long chunks but you won't get any ad exposure and then you'll have easy scrubbing sine they'll be local videos.

    6. Or if that doesn't work for you for whatever reason, I can download the videos and host them on my own server—but they're fairly large, so I don't want to do it on spec; let me know if it would be helpful!

    7. I'm good. It was a temporary problem. I'm going to avoid watching them until I get stuck, though.

  2. Did you try `det[ect]' for the traps? There's something along those lines in the code, but I can't seem to run the program to test it myself.

    1. Yeah, there's a DETECT command and a cursor option to detect traps. I don't know if I'm doing something wrong, but I can never get it to work, even when I know for sure there's a trap there.

    2. Have you tried using it with a thief character?

  3. If I wouldn't know otherwise I would think by the game's appearance it was offered as shareware.

  4. I think the term 'Daliesque' might be expanded to the entirety of its presentation, controls and gameplay.

  5. AlphabeticalAnonymousMay 26, 2024 at 8:09 AM

    Forget Dali -- this game is the CRPG equivalent of the Voynich Manuscript.

    1. Lol! A perfect encapsulation. In both cases if you told me the author was just trolling I'd believe you.

  6. This. This is the kind of thing I'm here for - thanks for sticking with it. Glad to see you seem to be having a/bemusement more than frustration. Defender of Boston was another absolute banger from you!

  7. Seems like the computer game equivalent of a Michael Haneke movie.

    1. I was thinking in the future AI will be able to generate entire video games from prompts. I imagine their early efforts will play something like this game.

  8. Nice looking but it is what I would call Action Adventure genre.

  9. You can only pick up one particular item from a room at a time, I have no idea what the logic is in which item it is you can pick up, but it is very annoying if the items aren't in areas you can reach at the same time. Not that it matters too much, since you can only carry one instance of an item at one time. For instance, in the church backroom, you would have to take the open stone wall path to the other goldring.

    With sleep traps, you should rest while doing that, that advances the time so you aren't waiting around. You can cast spells on the traps, no idea if you can attack them. You still have to know where the traps are though, and if it's blocked by a wall, you aren't hitting it unless you know what kind of trap it is.

    What has me worried about this Banesthrall guy, is that the game isn't very good about items. When I got the grail, I had to do the right thing twice, the first time around the game didn't give me the grail. That's fine when you're talking to a NPC, but with an enemy? That might die for good? That's kind of worrisome. (Don't bother asking how, the second you find the guy you're supposed to find, it's easy)

    1. Thanks for letting me know about the item-picking up thing. That was driving me crazy.

      I got the Grail last night myself and had the same problem--something about not being close enough to the Fire Elemental when he first tried to hand it to me.

      I got some intel that I should be able to banish Banesthrall with a bell. I just haven't found any intel on the bell yet.

  10. There's something very dada about the phrase "impeccable atrocity". Only an Italian games journalist could have come up with it!

    1. I read the original article because I had some doubt about the translation, but actually it is on point. The adjective should be better rendered as “unexceptionable”, but it still conveys the flavor of the original expression (“ineccepibili nefandezze”). The meaning is clear, but adjective and substantive are typically used in very different contexts, and seeing them together has a certain surprise effect, which was probably the intent of the review's author.

    2. you mean "unexceptionable" (not too bad; not something one would take exception to) or "unacceptable" (very bad, not something one would ever accept)?

    3. Unexceptionable is a correct if clunky translation. To give a similar meaning in English I would have used "flawless", their perceived meaning being closer.
      Strange as it may sound it's a simple oxymoron meant to underline how much the game sucks.

    4. We have plenty of phrases like that in English. I was just reading a review that called an event an "unadulterated disaster." To "adulterate" is usually a bad thing, but to "adulterate" a disaster would somehow make it less disastrous? Anyway, everyone understands that it's an oxymoron but it works for the reasons that Ronconauta says. I thought "impeccable atrocity" accomplished that same goal just fine.

    5. It's just perfect, I came out way more pedantic than I thought. I promise I'll pay more attention to it in the future.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.