Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Game of Dungeons v8: Of Course You Know, This Means War


I died.

Regular readers will be  aware that I've been playing this game since about August last year.  It's been humming along in the background while I polished off a bunch of shorter games.  In early January I started carefully grinding a new character, with the intention that I would level up to a point where I could quickly knock the game off my list.  I should have known it wouldn't be that simple.

Before I get into the ill-fated details, though, I should talk a bit about The Game of Dungeons, more commonly referred to by its filename of dnd.  The game was developed in 1975 by two students, Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood, for the PLATO mainframe.  Later on it was expanded by two more guys, the ultra-manly-sounding Dirk and Flint Pellett.  Two versions of the game are currently available to play at version 5.4 and version 8.  The former is a version of the original game, and the latter is the expansion by the Pellett brothers.

The Game of Dungeons version 5.4 is a hell of a game.  It's currently sitting at the top of my Final Ratings, and is by far the most enjoyable game I've played for the blog.  The goal of the game is to delve to the bottom of Whisenwood Dungeon - twenty levels deep - retrieve the Orb and return to the surface.  It's really well designed, and has an elegant system for increasing the difficulty: the more gold you carry, the tougher the monsters that attack you.  When you begin the game your carrying capacity is limited, so the difficulty is capped at a certain level.  Later you will find a Bag of Holding to increase the amount of gold you can carry, but this also makes the game harder.  Finding the Orb ramps it up again for the endgame.  It's really well done.
The halcyon days of version 5.4

The game also deletes your character permanently if you die, which can be frustrating.  But it's short enough that I regard this as a feature rather than a bug.  The tension of perma-death can be a beautiful thing.

Fast-forward to my gaming present, and The Game of Dungeons version 8.  The core of the game remains similar, but there's much more to it.  Rather than one dungeon of twenty levels, there are three dungeons of thirty levels each.  Not only do you have to retrieve the Orb to succeed, but you also have to find the Grail.  There are more monsters, more spells, more items.  Just more of everything.  At first glance, this looks like it should be better than the earlier version.  More stuff equals more good, right?

There are other changes, though.  The elegant difficulty levels I outlined above are gone, replaced by a more traditional system where the strength of the monsters is determined by dungeon level.  There are slimes everywhere, almost impossible to avoid, that eat your magic items.  There are magic runes, most of which are great but one of which can just kill you outright, with no chance to avoid it.


Worst of all, it has perma-death.  I know that I praised that very feature earlier, but like I said, version 5.4 isn't that long.  It has twenty dungeon levels.  Version 8 has ninety.  Ninety!  And if you die, it's back to square one.  Version 8 has removed almost everything that made the game great, added a bunch of things that are just frustrating, and made the game four times as long.  It's still a good game - the attention to detail paid to the interface is outstanding - and it's fun to play.  It's just not fun to play all the way from start to finish.

With the preliminaries done, I'll get to my recent travails, and my ill-fated attempt to take a short-cut to the finale.  My character, Strider, had reached the heady stratosphere of level 110, with close to 700 hit points (for the sake of comparison, my winning character in v5.4 had over 100,000; it really is a different game).  I felt confident that this was enough, as most of the characters sitting in the Hall of Fame are at about this level.

I also had a plan.  This plan involved the potion shop on Level 1 of each dungeon.  The shop sells every potion in the game, and my plan was to buy a Potion of Revival.  This would ensure that if I died while attempting to complete the game, my character would be whisked back to the surface alive and well.  This part of my plan worked, although there were some nasty, unforeseen side-effects that I was none-too-pleased with.

Buying a Potion of Revival.

The other part of my plan hinged on the ability to teleport quickly up and down between dungeon levels.  Getting to Level 30 of a dungeon is no problem in this game: the Excelsior Transporter found on level 1 of each dungeon will transport you to any level for the price of a small number of hit points.  As for getting back up, I figured that I'd use my teleport spells; by pressing Shift-PgUp and Shift-PgDn you can quickly move between levels.  It uses up spell slots, and sometimes moves you in the opposite direction you intended, but I've found it fairly reliable, and I thought I had enough slots to get me back up to familiar territory (I've mapped all three dungeons to level 12).

So I took the transporter down, and started exploring the bottom level of Whisenwood Dungeon.  The monsters were tough in battle, but my spells were able to kill them easily.  I didn't find what I was looking for, though, and it wasn't long before my spell slots started to deplete and I felt the urge to retreat to the surface.  So I started spamming Shift-PgUp, to see how close I could get.  It didn't go so well.  I had a bad run of luck with my teleport spells reversing, and by the time I had used up my spell slots I was on level 17 with no idea of how to escape.  I wandered around for a while looking for the exit, but my death was inevitable.

I wasn't overly worried: I had my Potion of Revival, and it did its job in resurrecting me and returning me to the surface.  What I didn't know is that I would lose all of my magic items, and also 1 point of Endurance.  I should have known, it's spelled out in the documentation, but I obviously hadn't read carefully enough.  Losing my magic items was a blow, but the Endurance loss was worse, as it dropped by hit points total by over 100, from about 670 to 530.

Needless to say, my plan was shot.  There was no way to reliably and safely short-cut to the end of this game.  I was going to have to map the whole thing, so that I'd have an escape route ready.  The potion hadn't been as useful as I'd hoped. but I still planned on using it; it had helped me escape perma-death, after all.

With my character over level 100 there was no more need for me to grind for XP, but there was a need for me to map.  I'd been grinding while watching copious hours of professional wrestling, because that sort of TV requires minimal attention.  I watch basically every WWE show, so I'd had plenty of hours to get my character strong.  I figured, hey, I did my grinding during wrestling hours, why not my mapping?

It was a terrible mistake.  With one window open for rasslin', one for the game, and one for Excel, I had minimal space to work with.  And my focus was split.  It was one thing to play the game on autopilot while wandering around on dungeon level 3, but for mapping I needed to be on level 12 and 13.  I needed my wits about me.

It went okay for a while, and I managed to map two levels during an episode of Raw.  Monsters weren't a problem, as I was strong enough to kill them automatically.  Disaster struck in the form of a slime.  The slimes on lower levels are tough, and were draining me for about 100 hit points at a time.  Every slime has its own specific weakness, but I have those memorised, so it was never a massive problem.

That is, until I walked into a puddle of Living Mercury that ate my sword.  Normally I would exit the dungeon when this happens, but my character was strong enough to kill monsters with his bare hands, so why would I leave?  What I hadn't taken into account were the slimes that can only be killed with a sword.  I stepped into a Roving Sludge, and with no sword I wasn't able to kill it.  I should have tried to break free by moving, but instead I just kept spamming ineffective Fire spells at it.  I think it was my split focus, and a bit of confusion from my sword not working, but soon enough I was staring dumbfounded at the Death Screen, while Ryback wrestled an interminable match against the Wyatt Family in the background.  Over a month's work, down the gurgler.

A few posts ago I had dramatically foreshadowed suicide if I lost my character.  Obviously I haven't taken that drastic action.  Instead, I am declaring war on The Game of Dungeons.  I'm back to grinding during wrestling, and I am going to grind the shit out of this game.  I'm going to map every damn square, and kill every damn monster, and take every damn treasure, and I am going to do it cautiously, methodically and spitefully.  Dirk and Flint Pellett: screw you both, and screw your game.  I'm going to beat all of you, no matter how long it takes.  The war of attrition begins anew.

This guy will definitely finish the game and not die at all I am certain of it.  Probably.


  1. Ouch! Brutal. But your resolve is truly admirable, and, quite frankly, kind of crazy.

    Still, it's a blast to see you completely go through these old mainframe games and map them, something I think might not be documented anywhere else. I think you'll only be truly in trouble if you run out of wrestling shows.

  2. I admit it... I've been reading your blog chronologically from your first post, but this was the point I threw all chronology in the bucket and immediately starting scanning through your posts to find the outcome. Great story! Can't wait to see if you beat this thing to a pulp, or if it eats you alive first.