Monday, May 13, 2019

Rogue: Won!*

I beat Rogue, but I had to really relax my savescumming rules to do it.

After days of struggling to survive for even 30 minutes from about the halfway point with decent stats, it was time to change my rule. Xorns continued to be nightmarish opponents who would kill me as soon as I stepped into a dark room, and umber hulks even deadlier opponents who I’d often run into in the middle of a dark room, get confused, and then be eviscerated while unable to fight back.

My new rule for Rogue – after dying five times in a row without making any progress, I could permit myself to save once on the next level, instead of needing to play for 30 minutes.

Furthermore, I switched to DOSBox SVN-Daum, so that I could use save states instead of Rogue’s built-in save function which strips my weapon of enchantments. I figured I would need those enchantments, and I'm pretty sure I was right.

I beat Rogue this way, and what follows is a log of my various lives grouped by the savepoint where I started.

Savepoint L15

Try 1 – I found two scrolls of enchant weapon and used them right away. At character level 10, I was strong enough to take on xorns, but only if one-on-one and only if at nearly full health. Some undetected trapdoors dropped me to level 19, where I got drained to level 8 by some unlucky hits by wraiths. An umber hulk in the dark confused me, but I used a staff of teleportation to cast it away before it could kill me. Unfortunately, a xorn was in the dark too. I teleported it away, but it just teleported to another place in the same room. My staff ran out of charges, and the xorn killed me.

Try 2 – I found a ring of stealth, and noticed that enemies didn’t pursue me any more unless I attacked them first. So I ignored xorns unless I was at full health. On level 19, I killed a xorn in a tunnel, but behind it was ANOTHER xorn. So I ran, only to be blocked by a Quasit on the other end of the tunnel.

Try 3 – Wraiths, dart traps, and a rust monster enfeebled me. I narrowly beat a xorn, only to be killed by invisible stalkers while waiting to regenerate.

Try 4 – Found a scroll of enchant weapon, and used it. Found some banded mail, equipped it, and enchanted it. A xorn on the next level down killed me even though I was at full health and had AC of 3, the lowest I’d achieved yet.

Try 5 – An undetected teleport trap zapped me to a dark room with a quasit and rust monster. A troll also crept up on me while fighting them. In my weakened state, I went to a corridor to try to rest, where a lurking xorn finished me off.

Checkpoint unlocked.

Level 15 – I killed a leprechaun, took its gold, and found a scroll of identify. A hidden passageway led to a nymph, which I killed and took its treasure, a scale mail. I found a ring of increased damage, killed some wraiths without trouble, and found a scroll of enchant weapon which I used right away. I quicksaved right at the staircase to level 16.

Stats: Level 9, Str 18/39, Mace +4/+3, Scale mail +0, +2 ring of increase damage, 3 rations remain

Savepoint L16

Try 1 – I nearly got killed by a xorn and had to use a scroll of hold monster to get away. While waiting to regenerate, I got killed by another xorn.

Try 2 – Walked into a corner, and suddenly two umber hulks just appeared out of nowhere, trapping me. Fortunately, neither one confused me. Unfortunately, they just slashed me to death instead.

Try 3 – Found a ring of slow digestion. Fought a xorn in a tunnel, then got killed by another xorn while waiting to regenerate.

Try 4 – Fought a troll and a xorn. Attacked by a xorn while waiting to regenerate, and won. Killed by a third xorn while waiting to regenerate from that attack.

Try 5 – Ran into a teleport trap and got confused by an umber hulk in the room I teleported into. Used a scroll of hold monster to keep it from killing me, but then got killed by an invisible stalker in the room while I was running around confused.

Checkpoint unlocked

Level 16 – I found a splint mail, the best armor I located yet. I held onto it but didn’t wear it, as rust monsters were still on the loose. I killed some yetis and wraiths without trouble.

Stats: Level 9, Str 18/39, Mace +4/+3, Splint mail +0, +2 ring of increase damage, 3 rations remain

Savepoint L17

Try 1 – Killed an umber hulk, got killed by another while waiting to regenerate.

Try 2 – Killed by a xorn in 1:1 combat.

Try 3 – While fighting a xorn in the dark, an umber hulk snuck up on me from behind.

Try 4 – Kept missing a solo xorn and got killed by it.

Try 5 – Killed by a solo xorn.

Checkpoint unlocked.

Level 17 - Killed two xorns, quaffed a healing potion. Found a potion of strength and quaffed it. Easily killed two wraiths, a quasit, and two centaurs. Killed another xorn without too much trouble. Saved near the staircase.

Stats: Level 10, Str 18/55, Mace +4/+3, Splint mail +0, +2 ring of increase damage, 2 rations remain

Savepoint L18

Try 1 – Confused and killed by an umber hulk.

Try 2 – Confused and killed by an umber hulk.

Try 3 – Decided to try avoiding encounters and just head down as often as possible. I found staircases and trapdoors pretty quickly. I encountered one umber hulk in a dark room who confused me, but I read a scroll of hold monster and snuck away. Soon I found the amulet of Yendor on level 26!

That’s the comma to my right.

Unfortunately, my good luck ended soon after. After climbing back to level 25, I almost immediately stepped on a trapdoor back to level 26, and from there stepped into ANOTHER trapdoor and fell down to level 27! When I climbed up to level 25, I stepped on yet another trapdoor back to level 26. I encountered several umber hulks during this time, though I was able to actually beat some, partly thanks to having another scroll of hold monster, and I also found a staff of striking, which can be used accurately even while confused. I killed many vampires too, and gained a level. But eventually I encountered the umber hulk that did me in.

Try 4 – This one was an adventure.

I continued my stealth strategy. I found purple worm, and killed it from afar with my bow and arrows.
Deep on level 4, I found an umber hulk and a xorn, and ran, hoping to find a staircase. Instead, I found a dragon. Crap!

Fortunately, I had picked up a scroll in the last level which I knew to be a scroll of scare monster. This is exactly the kind of situation where you need one. Unfortunately, Rogue is still really mean about it in two ways.

First, the way you use a scroll of scare monster is completely unintuitive. If you read it, it crumbles to dust and you hear maniacal laughter in the distance. The manual for the later Epyx version explains how to use it properly; you must drop it, and then you will be invulnerable until you move from that space. There’s no in-game indication or anything in the original instructions saying that this is how you are supposed to use it.

Second, there are only two ways you’d even know you’re carrying a scroll of scare monster. The first would be if you already wasted one by reading it, and you happen to know that “maniacal laughter” means it’s a scare monster scroll, and then you happened to find another scroll of that type and remember the name of the first one. These scrolls are so rare that finding two seems improbable. The other is if you used a scroll of identification, and given how rare these scrolls are, it seems like a waste to use one on another scroll.

Neither applied to me; I knew what this scroll type was from wasting one on a previous attempt in the same save file, so I dropped it and killed the helpless monsters surrounding me, and instantly gained a level from the dragon kill.

The next room north, I fell into a trapdoor where an angry dragon attacked me for big damage. I read a scroll of confusion, hit it to make it confused, and then killed it as it punch-drunkenly flew around the lair in confounded circles.

Sadly, the adventure came to an end the way it had so many times before. Confused by an umber hulk in the dark, and then killed, as I had run out of toys to help me deal with this situation.

Try 5 – I got confused by an umber hulk in the dark, then read a scroll of hold monster to keep him in place as I fumbled around until the effect wore off. Then I attacked him at full health, and lost anyway.

Checkpoint unlocked

Level 18 – Found a ring of stealth and another scroll of enchant armor. Found a scroll of confuse monster. Encountered one umber hulk, who did not confuse me, and I beat without trouble. Encountered no further umber hulks, but killed wraiths, quasits, invisible stalkers, and trolls without trouble. Encountered a rust monster, but it didn’t attack, so I had time to remove my armor before killing it. I used both scrolls of enchant armor on my splint mail, figuring it unlikely I’d find anything better. I saved near the stairs.

Stats: Level 10, Str 18/55, Mace +4/+3, Splint mail +2, +2 ring of increase damage, ring of stealth, 2 rations remain

Savepoint L19

I don’t completely understand how the ring of stealth works. Sometimes enemies don’t pursue me, sometimes they do without provocation. But it gives me a chance against the umber hulks. Often I’d walk right into an umber hulk in the dark and get confused, but it wouldn’t attack. Then I could just wait in the dark until the confusion ran off and fight it one on one, which usually meant victory for me.

Try 1 – Tried to kill a purple worm by firing arrows at it from the other side of the room. Got killed.

Try 2 –During this try, I stumbled into an umber hulk in the dark and got confused, but it didn’t attack at all, so I just waited out and then killed it. In another level, I found a purple worm in a tiny room.

Not risking it!

In the levels to come, I found a staff of “teleport away” and the amulet.

While looking for the stairs, I fought a hostile vampire while a dragon nearby slept.

I noticed that once you have the amulet, no more treasure spawns, not even gold or food! But you also don’t get hungry.

On level 24, I fell into a trapdoor. While searching for the stairs, I encountered an umber hulk and an awake xorn.

So I used a scroll of hold monster to freeze both and waited out the confusion, then killed them both pretty easily.

Searching all of the walls for a way out gets very tedious. Lucky thing I’m not prone to hunger any more.

On level 23, I got confused by a pursuing umber hulk, and then used a staff of teleportation to zap it elsewhere.

Finally, after getting hit by numerous poison darts draining my strength back to 16, I got killed by a lousy invisible stalker of all things.

Try 3 – On level 24, I wasted a whole bunch of time trying to find a secret door, and when I found it got ambushed by a throng of xorns and umber hulks. I went through one judicious cast of drain life and multiple consumables just to barely survive. But I ran into another hostile umber in a passageway to the room which must have held the staircase. I used my last goodie, a scroll of confusion, and managed to land a lucky hit on it while flailing aimlessly. I managed to retreat from it into the previous room, but it followed, and finished me off.

Try 4 – Double-teamed by a hostile xorn and umber hulk.

Try 5 – Victory!

I kept stealthing my way downward. In a long room I killed a sleeping dragon with my bow and arrows, instantly gained a level, and also got a strength potion.

The need to search for walls from levels 20-26 was ridiculous. You can easily spend five rounds on every single potential spot, find nothing, and then make further sweeps of every single wall, again and again, until you finally find the secret door in a spot that you’ve searched more than 20 times, because you’ve searched every spot more than 20 times. And by then, plenty of hostile and alert monsters had spawned in the rooms ahead. I inadvertently skipped some levels by falling into trapdoors.

Once I found the amulet, the journey up through levels 26 to 20 were equally ridiculous, only worse because this time I really didn’t want to fall into any trapdoors (and I did, twice, even falling down to level 27 at one point). I would search with every single step, and even then I still stepped into plenty of traps, usually because my searching failed to reveal it, but sometimes because muscle memory from repeatedly tapping S, forward, S, forward often made me blunder right into the very trap that I had just revealed. Monsters remained dangerous. I didn’t run into many wandering umber hulks this time, but one proved a close call.

But I eventually reached level 18, and from there on I had no more real troubles. While dnd would force me to contend with juiced-up monsters with levels in the 7000’s almost every step of the way back to the surface once I stole the ORB, and DND's general monster encounter rate would go through the roof, Rogue simply had me fight the monsters that would normally appear in each level, getting easier with each staircase I climbed. In fact, in my hurry to finish the game, I rushed through the remaining levels, stepping into whatever traps I would. I did fall into one trapdoor, and got hit by several darts, but I didn’t really need my enhanced strength any longer. The journey upward was long but speedy.

Light! How long it’s been since I’ve seen you.

Absolutely nothing standing between me and victory now.

Weirdly, it didn’t record my final score. Maybe it’s a bug in the RRP port that nobody caught because even the developers couldn’t beat it?

I’m pretty happy with the experience I got, but I shudder to think of what it takes to truly beat this game fair and square. Umber hulks can’t be outmuscled, and you can’t count on getting a steady supply of hulk-busting toys like scrolls of confusion, holding, and magic wands. Only the ring of stealth did anything to improve my long term survival odds, and even then there are just so many ways you can be blindsided by chaotic events in the dungeon of doom and die. If I were to replay and ever find a super rare scroll of genocide again, I know which monster type I’d eradicate, and even then, victory would be a long shot.

Chester Bolingbroke at CRPG Addict beat a later DOS version of Rogue in four months fairly, but didn’t mention medusas (the equivalent of umber hulks) even once, and the only special gear he mentioned was finding a ring of slow digestion and enchanted plate armor. Not to disparage his accomplishment, but I have to wonder if umber hulks were nerfed in later versions. I certainly would do that if I were going to revise this game.

Rogue isn’t the first Roguelike; CRPG Addict considers Beneath Apple Manor, Dungeon Campaign, and Brian Sawyer’s Dungeon to be Roguelikes that predate it. I haven’t played any of these, as they appear to have been developed independently of Rogue, and aren’t clear ancestors of any whales on my list.

Wikipedia also lists pedit5, dnd, and Telengard as Roguelikes, and if we include them, then we must also include Daniel Lawrence’s DND. Between these four “DNDlikes,” Rogue most strongly resembles DND, for its turn-based combat, ASCII graphics, the monsters with diverse battle tactics, and the sheer variety of equipment and stuff in the dungeon. DND also is unique among these DNDlikes for featuring a class system, including a fighter class who is capable of facing middleweight monsters in melee combat, but never learns any spells, and may only use magic items found in the dungeon. Which, again, anticipates the experience of Rogue.

I don’t know if Glenn Wichman or Michael Toy had played any of these games by 1980; they both went to school at Santa Cruz and worked on Rogue at UC Berkley, which doesn’t really tell me whether or not they’d have had access to the Purdue University or DEC networks where DND was hosted and played. Telengard wasn’t commercially available until at least 1981, but earlier versions may have been distributed or at least demoed as early as 1978. Without any specific evidence suggesting otherwise, I feel I have to assume Rogue’s developers hadn’t seen DND. The similarities are abstract enough that I can accept it is a coincidence that two different computer programmers interpreted aspects of Dungeons & Dragons in the same way. There's nothing as blatantly copied as, say, DND's Excelsior Transporter.

Just as DND brought innovations not seen in previous games, so did Rogue. Among the most important is the randomized dungeon layout. At 80x25 cells, the raw grid is larger than DND’s 20x20 or dnd’s 9x9, and yet it feels smaller than either thanks to the very strict dungeon layout template, where each floor consists of no more than nine rectangular rooms laid out in a 3x3 pattern and the corridors connecting them, not to mention how it the entire floor always fits on your screen.

Then there is the fact that leaving the dungeon to rest is simply not an option. In all of the DNDlikes, knowing when to retreat to the surface to recover your HP/SP is a crucial tactic. Here, the only way out of the dungeon is to quit, die, or find the amulet and return with. Nor can you reasonably grind easy levels for XP and gear, as levels don’t restock with loot, you can’t return to previous levels until you’ve found the amulet, and scarce food supplies force you to keep moving downward.

In spite of some balance issues (which may have been improved on by later versions), and heavy reliance on luck (which I understand is still the case in all versions), Rogue is generally a much better game than any of the DNDlikes that I played.

I'm currently reviewing the source code for Rogue version 3.6 to better understand its mechanics and data. The code itself is terse and rather difficult to understand in a lot of places, but it's also heavily commented, which is both good and unexpected. My next post, and last post on Rogue, will be an analysis on just how Rogue works, with things like monster and item charts and explanations on how obscure mechanics work, and even bugs (for instance, poison dart traps are probably not meant to hit you every single time, but they always do).


  1. If you look up the list of monsters in Rogue, it doesn't even mention Umber Hulks.

    Also, Aquators instead of Ants. (Or was it G for Giant? In which case they're Griffins instead.)

    1. The page mentions that Rogue version 5.3 re-arranged some of the monster names, such as how rust monsters became aquators (and how Nethack made them rust monsters again).

      There's a list of monster renames and some other version differences and mechanics here:

  2. I'm not surprised at all at the length you had to go to cheat to victory. Rogue is extremely merciless and unforgiving. But then, it was the first modern style roguelike. The gameplay got refined in Hack and then NetHack into something that is still merciless, but mostly fair (gnomes with wand of death excepted).

    One of Rogue's main innovations was the "food clock". Because there is limited resources to sate your hunger, it forces you to advance at least at certain pace. This stops players from being able to grind to victory. The food clock is extremely difficult to balance and many games since then get it wrong. It's either too unforgiving or trivial past the very early game, making it kind of noob-trap. Consequently, it is one design element that has fallen out of favour in the genre in the more recent generations of roguelikes.

    Rogue also encourages you to avoid combat past certain point. There are lots of very deadly monsters where the risk far outstrips the reward and combat attritions your resources rather than gains you resources. The key to victory is not to try to beat every monster on every level.

    It is interesting to contrast that with, say, NetHack where the balance is completely opposite. Past certain point almost everything stops being a threat to you individually, until the very end-game. The epitome of which is Vlad. The *named* end boss of an entire branch of the dungeon, who is a complete laughing stock. Players have gone out of their way to kill him with the worst possible weapon they can, because he was such a pushover at the stage of the game they typically find him at.

    In Rogue your resources never outpace the threat level of the dungeon, quite the contrary.


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