Wednesday, July 10, 2024

BRIEF: Game Master's Guide Adventure #1: Rai'Morth's Hollow (1984)

 
     
Game Master's Guide Adventure #1: Rai'Morth's Hollow
United States
Walter Computer Services (developer and publisher)
Released 1984 for Apple II
Rejected for: Not a game itself, but a utility to assist tabletop gaming
      
In 1984, Michael T. Walter of Pennsylvania-based Walter Computer Services published a utility disk to assist game masters in running tabletop role-playing sessions. The program allowed GMs to generate characters, simulate dice rolls and critical hits, generate random monster parties and treasure hauls, populate stores with a random selection of inventory, and consult statistical tables covering monsters, treasures, and equipment. It's just the sort of thing that I would have wanted (or created for myself) if I had been a GM during the period.
    
As a supplement to this utility, Walter published an "adventure" disk called Rai'Morth's Hollow. It's basically a module on disk. You can't really play it as a CRPG because it doesn't store your characters on the disk or in the game memory. Instead, it's full of text meant to be read aloud to a group of tabletop players, and it generates enemy parties and encounters to be resolved through tabletop play. 
      
Arriving in town.
       
The module starts in the town of Three Rivers, where a party can visit the Green Otter Inn, Aldara's Shop, Greystar's Alchemy, and the Boatyards. Each is run by a proprietor for which the program gives appropriate background information. For instance, Aldara, who runs the general store, is a Level 9/7 thief/fighter who can be persuaded to give a hint as to getting into the thieves' guild in the back room of the Green Otter. She will attack anyone who tries to shoplift from her. Despite the fair amount of detail, the game leaves a lot for the GM to fill in; for instance, the aforementioned thieves' guild isn't actually described in the Green Otter section. 
        
A party of enemies to fight on the tabletop.
       
After equipping themselves and enjoying the amenities of the Three Rivers, the party exits the town to the north or east, although the eastern direction just leads to "further adventures" in other modules. To the north, the party navigates a wilderness of marshes, forests, and river rapids, all with occasional asides to the GM instructing him to roll for hazards like quicksand and thorns, or suggesting locations for hidden treasures if the party takes the time to search. Eventually, they find their way to the titular hollow in the middle of Fangthorn Forest (yes, I know the reference). There, they can find the keep that serves as the retirement place for a powerful, evil wizard (Rai'Morth). He seems to be dead, but his keep and the surrounding forest are still filled with bizarre encounters, treasures, puzzles, and of course monsters. I searched the game text, but I couldn't find anything that seemed like a main quest or conclusion to the adventure. An advertisement for the disk suggests that it came with a detailed manual and maps, so there was probably more information setting up and concluding the quest in the manual. I searched but was unable to find it.
       
A typical module screen.
       
Walter ultimately published three editions of the Guide disks, although ads make it seem like they may have each offered different features rather than being three editions of the same disk. The utilities appeared for both the Apple II and Commodore 64, but it seems that the Adventure disk was only for the Apple II. Although the ad suggests there might be "other integrated scenarios," the Internet has preserved no evidence of Adventure #2 or beyond.  
       
An ad for the Game Master's Guide software from a 1984 Dungeons & Dragons magazine.
      
Except for this brief flurry of utilities in 1984, I can find no evidence that Michael Walter worked on any other games or game-related software. His company advertised a variety of services and software, including a large suite of lottery software. Walter died in 2011 at age 61.
 

11 comments:

  1. Since this is a BRIEF with - I assume - no follow-up given the nature of the program, I'll post links directly here in the comment section also for the benefit of others who might be interested.

    The documentation (manual and maps) for Rai'Morth's Hollow can be found https://archive.org/details/RaiMorthsHollow-documentation/ here.

    The MOCAGH has (pictures of the disks and) documentation for the Game Master's Guide I - III utilities here. Based on a quick glance, they indeed appear to feature different aspects (the third mentions e.g. army / wargame components) and not to be just updated editions of the same basic content.

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    Replies
    1. I forgave the use of block capitals on the game screen, but they are very hard to read in book form! On the plus side there are maps etc.

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  2. Sorry, that went slightly wrong. This is the direct link for the RMH documentation if you just want to click on it instead of copying the address above.

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  3. I wonder if that's actually the first virtual tabletop assistant. They have come long way since then, see Roll20.

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    Replies
    1. Per wikipedia, there's "The Imperial Data Recovery System" from 1981 for the Traveller system specifically.
      The next on the list is Dragonfire II which is later than this BRIEF. One wonders when Dragonfire I came out and what it was.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_role-playing_game_software

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    2. Dragonfire II is from 1985

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  4. I wonder if Three Rivers is a Pittsburgh reference, given that the company was HQ'd in PA.

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    Replies
    1. That's a great catch, @killias2. I think you're 100% right. (I'm not from Pittsburgh, but Three Rivers Stadium immediately came to mind.)

      Delete
    2. There's also a town in Canada called Trois-Rivières, which is Three Rivers in French.

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    3. Looks like Walter was in Lancaster, which is much closer to Philadelphia than Pittsburgh. But Walter would surely have heard of Three Rivers Stadium and might well have got the name from there.

      I would definitely bet that the line about "strange things happening on Three River Island" is a reference to the Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown, which happened in 1984 fairly close to Lancaster. Anyone in Pennsylvania in 1984 would have had a bit of a shock reaction to "Three ___ Island"!

      I don't recognize any other obvious Pennsylvania references, but I'm from Pittsburgh rather than Lancaster so there could easily be Lancaster things I'm missing. (Lancaster is well known for its Amish population; the movie Witness was being filmed there around this time.)

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    4. "Yunz are standin' in the center of town, gettin' a sammich..."

      Delete

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