Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Game 205: Dunjonquest: Hellfire Warrior

Read the manual here:

After the events of Temple of Apshai, the unnamed dying city found prosperity as adventurers from all over the world came in search of its treasures. The depths below Apshai, it turns out, run much lower than anyone knew, and Brian Hammerhand, who it is now strongly implied we play as, is haunted with dreams of a warrior queen imprisoned in the darkness below. After meeting (and inadvertently patronizing) a female adventurer with a hard-earned sack of loot, he makes his appointment with the wizard Merlis, who informs him that he has seen visions of the demi-goddess Brynhild, that he bears the mark of the hellfire warrior and has been chosen as her champion, who would venture to the dark lands to battle demons and dragons and rescue her from her centuries-long sleep.

Hellfire Warrior offers significant improvements over Temple of Apshai, which address several of the problems I had with it. Saving and loading work properly now, although files for the characters and files for changes to the dungeon are saved and loaded independently of each other. There is an end goal, although the game has no way of knowing that you've reached it. You have character levels now, which increase with experience, and new stores provide both an outlet for the money you collect and a means of improving your stats and gear throughout the game, simultaneously solving two shortcomings of the original.

Thanks to the city's sudden boom town status, there is now a magic shop which will enchant your weapons and armor for a steep fee, and sell items such as magic arrows, magic boots, and amulets. There is also an apothecary which sells a variety of potions including the familiar healing elixirs, but also mysterious concoctions with unnamed benefits like hydra's blood, and white lotus drops which we are warned are potent but also addictive. Prices at these stores are much higher than anything that was ever available to buy in Temple of Apshai except for the one-time purchase full plate, and Hellfire Warrior now accurately calculates your treasure haul each session and remembers your funds from session to session, under the presumption that your coinage is kept stashed at the inn during your trips down below.

Prices are in gold, a 10:1 value to Temple of Apshai's silver

The first thing I wanted to do was figure out what the potions on tap do. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense that the apothecary would sell potions without even telling you what will happen when you drink them. The manual handwaves this, saying that they're just fiercely protective of trade secrets, but who in their right mind takes powerful drugs without at least some notion of what they do? Even meth abusers must have some idea of what they're getting into.

With some throwaway characters, I determined the following effects of the drafts, which take immediate effect on purchase:
  • Viper milk temporarily increases constitution by 1 point.
  • Oliphant milk temporarily increases strength by 1 point.
  • Cobra milk temporarily increases dexterity by 1 point.
  • Lizard milk temporarily increases intuition by 1 point.
  • Falcon milk temporarily increases ego by 1 point.
  • Troll blood temporarily increases constitution by up to 4 points, or decreases by up to 2.
  • Kracken blood temporarily increases strength by up to 4 points, or decreases by up to 2.
  • Hydra blood temporarily increases dexterity by up to 4 points, or decreases by up to 2.
  • White lotus permanently decreases ego by 1 point, and temporarily increases it by 3-6.
  • Ambrosia gives you 150% health to start.

The vials are consumed during gameplay and their effects aren't secret. Elixirs and salves are healing items that return from Temple of Apshai, the only difference that this time elixirs can be purchased. Nectars are new and restore fatigue. I have no idea what the mandragoras do, but the manual says they are "as powerful as they are subtle." I think this might just be a prank, or perhaps a placebo.

That mystery mostly out of the way, and with the tentative takeaway that apart from ambrosia these potions aren't all that great, and the white lotus definitely not worth taking unless you're expecting to win in the next trip, I began the game proper.

Hellfire Warrior starts on level 5. Forget this and the game crashes.

The backstory is at odds with the gameplay in one big respect. While the story says Hammerhand is Brynhild's chosen champion, this is a full-fledged Dunjonquest and you play your own character, not Hammerhand.

I opted to use my old Temple of Apshai character sheet, using the stats that Ahab had available before cheating, and immediately noticed something curious - that his strength and dexterity were both two points higher than what I had entered! Through some experimenting with character creation, I determined this is how leveling works. You gain a point to a stat for each level gained, and XP requirement per level is 1000XP*2level. In other words, 2000XP means 1 level, 4000XP means 2 levels, 8000XP means 3 levels, and so on, with a maximum level of 13 at over 8 million XP. My XP from Temple of Apshai was enough to give me four levels, which granted me +2 strength and +2 constitution.

Dungeon 5, called "Lower Reaches of Apshai," already feels more difficult than any of the original four. I found a +4 magic sword early on, but the enemies, consisting entirely of giant bugs, spiders, and gastropods are always risky to engage, and no tactic seems foolproof. There's so much random variance in the damage you take when hit - it could be over 80%, it could be less than 10%, and it could be nothing. Parrying means I take bad hits less often, but also makes the fight drag on, which may ultimately increase the odds of getting hit badly rather than decrease it. Attacks and thrusts end the fight quicker, but make me more likely to get hit back, and drain precious stamina fast as well. Ranged combat is sometimes awkward as the graphics don't always make it clear whether I'm positioned in a way that my arrows can hit the enemy or not, or if I'm close enough to be hit back with a melee attack.

The level itself is designed simply but elegantly, with a junction at the start branching up into three halls, each one with several doors leading to rooms of monsters and treasures, some of which interconnect. The room descriptions system from Temple of Apshai returns, but it doesn't seem nearly as much effort went into them this time.

"Screw it, I'm not describing 22 different corridors" - Freeman, probably.

Treasures are much less common than before, but the level isn't saturated with worthless trash to collect either. One room's "treasure" was a healing pool, which could be "taken" repeatedly to heal. Traps aren't very common either, but searching for them almost never worked. If I found a trap, it was usually by stepping on one in a room that I had already searched and been told was clear. Secret doors are much more annoying to search for than in Temple of Apshai, sometimes taking as many as ten searches to re-reveal a door I already knew was there.

A few rooms here can't be left the same way they were entered; leaving simply teleports you to the opposite side of the room and sometimes spawns an enemy. In one such room, which had no doors except for the one I had entered, I initially thought this was a bug that left me trapped until my death, until I tried re-searching each wall for secret doors and eventually found one leading to the southern hallway.

I eventually got killed by a gas trap, and was rescued by the wizard, whose terms are unclear as I got to keep my magic weapon and arrows despite the manual's warning that he would take them. I returned to the inn with my treasures.

Disagreeing doesn't do anything. I tried it.

In Temple of Apshai, you'd basically be set for life with this much cash. The best armor, which I already owned, cost the equivalent of $100, and your arrows and healing salves cost $13 to completely replenish.

Inflation hasn't really struck the city, things cost more or less the same as before, with only arrows facing an upcharge, costing $6 for a full quiver instead of $3. But the new shops and services are just exorbitant at this point in the game.
  • Magic arrows, formerly only found in the dungeon in very limited quantities, can be purchased and cost $20. Each.
  • We've already seen the stat-boosting apothecary, whose potions range in price from $20 to $100.
  • Elixirs, formerly unavailable to purchase, cost $10/each, while the less effective healing salves cost $1/each. The new stamina-restoring nectars cost $5/each.
  • Malaclypse the Mage can enchant your weapon or armor at a cost of 100*(level2). My weapon would cost $2,500 to upgrade to +5, but my armor would only cost $100 to give it a +1.
  • Malaclypse also sells trinkets - an orichalcum amulet for $1000, a skull amulet for $750, a dragon talisman for $500, and 7-league boots for $2500. I still don't know what these do.

Occasionally, Benedic the Priest will seek donations; a feature mentioned in the Temple of Apshai manual that never actually happens there. I don't know what triggers this, but one time it happened twice in a row. Give more than 9% of your wealth and he'll bless you. Give less than 2% and he'll curse you. Anything in between and he'll just call you a miser. I don't know what effect this has on gameplay, but given that being found by Benedic is the best possible outcome of being killed, I figure it's best to stay on his good side.

In my continued expeditions, I got killed a few more times by the bugs and spiders in this place, but eventually survived long enough to discover a new weapon in a secret workroom, a blowgun, which comes with poisoned darts, and seem to be much more effective than even magic arrows, but there were only three of them, which I soon expended on giant spiders. The most valuable treasure was found on a room off the far west side of the central tunnel, worth $800, and a $500 treasure in a hidden closet there. With this I enchanted my plate mail to +3 which made me far more resilient, and I found the rest of the rooms and their lesser treasures, which included a talisman of no monetary value whose purpose was a complete mystery.

Wrapping up this post, let's talk about saving, and how it changed from Temple of Apshai to Hellfire Warrior. In the first game, "saving" doesn't really exist in the conventional sense. When you're done playing, you simply record your character stats onto paper, and when you wish to resume playing, you manually re-create your character by declaring your stats. The dungeon state is remembered as long as the computer stays on, but if you perform a hard reset, then slain monsters return, treasures restock, secret doors are concealed, and sprung traps reset.

In Hellfire Warrior, there are three types of save files. First, you can save your character to disk at the inn, eliminating the need to record stats on paper. You can still "load" your character the old way, by re-creating your stats manually, but there's no provision for declaring items not found in Temple of Apshai such as nectars, blowguns, and Merlis' trinkets, so it's clear that the former is the intended method.

Second, you may save the dungeon state to a file. Temple of Apshai did have this feature, but in the version I played it didn't seem to work. When returning to the inn, if you wish to do this, you are asked to pick a name for the new level. Supposing you entered and partly cleared level 5, you may call your changed dungeon "5a." Then in the future, when asked which dungeon you wish to explore, you may enter "5a" if you want to resume your progress as if you never turned the computer off, or you may enter "5" to reset everything. The game won't, however, stop you from overwriting the included files on the disk, or completely ruining your disk by overwriting level 8 with the modified state of a different dungeon, effectively deleting the game's final level.

Third, while in the dungeon you may save your game in progress, essentially acting as a quick-save functionality. There's only one slot for this available, and this is clearly not intended as your primary method of saving progress, but it's the only way to recall a game mid-session. Dying does not erase this save, so you can use it to conveniently undo outcomes that you don't like, which might make this the earliest RPG to have such a feature.

The next level is The Labyrinth, which is apparently where the action girl in the manual had been lost for days before finding the way out. As of this writing, I haven't tried it yet, but the manual warns that the exit isn't in the same place as the entrance, and there are no room numbers or descriptions to guide you out. Joy.

Level 5 map:


  1. Ahab writes: "The game won't, however, stop you from overwriting the included files on the disk, or completely ruining your disk by overwriting level 8 with the modified state of a different dungeon, effectively deleting the game's final level."
    What an incredibly specific example!

    1. It seemed like the most severe way you could possibly screw up your disk. I had to test it to see if this was possible, and it was! Thankfully backups are very easy in the 21st century.

  2. I played these as a kid when they came out. Not many other RPGs available for the TRS-80, particularly not on cassette. I think I enjoyed Morloc’s tower the most, followed by this one. I recall rescuing Brynhild, but not how.


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