Saturday, August 29, 2020

Game 208: Dunjonquest: Upper Reaches of Apshai

In September 1981, one year after the initial release of Temple of Apshai's sequel Hellfire Warrior, Automated Simulations released two expansion packs, one for each.

Upper Reaches of Apshai is, unsurprisingly, the expansion to Temple of Apshai, and although it came out a year after Hellfire Warrior, it incorporates none of its improvements or advances over the original save for some level design paradigms and shenanigans. There is no new code in this expansion; it is simply a set of four new levels to be played using the Temple of Apshai Innkeeper and Dunjonmaster programs, and carries the limitations of the original game. There's almost no character advancement here, there's nothing worth spending your silver on past some basic provisions available at the start, and no reason to bother with treasures except that they're there.
The manual is pretty brief this time, giving the barest of backstory for a "William Nailfoot" who like many other adventurers traveled by sea to join the Temple of Apshai looting, but found only a rusty nail through his foot. Months of convalescence and therapy later, he can walk again, but the action has come and gone, and now he's stuck doing odd jobs around town to pay for his trip home.

Normally I play the earliest release available, but for the sake of my sanity, I played using a "rev2" edition of Temple of Apshai, for bug fixes and quality of life improvements. Tracing the provenance of TRS-80 games is troublesome, but I'm satisfied that this was available at the time of Upper Reaches' original release. I imported my Ahab character as he was in Temple of Apshai (prior to any cheating), so he could continue his adventures, making it sort of a parallel universe to my playthrough of Hellfire Warrior, in which I had also imported him.

The biggest difference of rev2 that I noticed was that it supports saving your character to disk, so that you didn't have to keep re-typing his stats. Rev2 also fixes some bugs, among them that your shield no longer disappears for no reason. Saving the dungeon state to the disk still doesn't work right; loading it still produces corruption. There's also an inconsistent use of a lowercase font. Rev2 still doesn't keep track of your silver or tally the value of your haul - that's something you just have to keep track of yourself (not that it matters).

The first level is the innkeeper's backyard, which according to the manual we are hired to clean up.

It's not clear what he meant by cleaning it up, but there are field mice and dogs crawling around here. A few coppers can be had by scrounging through the trash strewn in the yard, which also unleashes a few flies. To the north, eggs can be taken from a poultry coop, if you can brave the chickens and geese guarding them. To me, they posed no threat whatsoever. To the south are the stables, where a nest of mice gather around some cheese. The adjacent structure has a surprise.

Opportunistic adventurer that I am, I killed the innkeeper's wife and took his dirty laundry. He never said that wasn't part of the cleanup job.

The central area in this level is a large, open field of berry bushes, divided into 24 small rooms. It somewhat reminds me of the plains of hell in Hellfire Warrior, but nowhere near as confusing to navigate. Unlike it, though, it is painfully slow to navigate, as the engine here seems to uselessly draw walls around every visible "room" on the screen before removing walls that shouldn't exist, which is most of them. More field mice infest this area, and on occasion we're attacked by killer tomatoes!
To the east of this field is a secret door leading to a passage to a cavern under a hill, where we find a bandit and his treasure, the best in the level. This bandit is the only creature in the entire level capable of landing a scratch on me.
South of the field is a toolshed storing useless items and occupied by drunken sailors.

To the southwest is a vegetable garden where the killer tomatoes come from. Here, I make some killer chicken cacciatore (no, really), and find a purse full of money, the second best treasure in this level.

The next level is Merlis' cottage, and the manual explains we are here to collect lost wages for painting his fence. We're warned not to hurt the cats, and although I'm certain the engine is not capable of punishing us for this, I took heed anyway. They seem to respond well to negotiation. One exception though was the rare black cat, which drained stats, and therefore I de-clawed it with magic arrows before it could do this.

At only 21 rooms, his cottage is easily the smallest level in the entire Dunjonquest series, discounting the Microquests. However, the rooms past a tapestry in his hall of magic don't all connect orthographically, making for a confusing, warp-filled headache of a map. For what it's worth, Hellfire Warrior's final level was much worse. At least we have room numbers to keep our bearings this time, especially useful here as there are mirrored rooms that look identical to each other, and connect in strange ways.

I did my best to make some coherent sense out of the level. Rooms 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, and 19 have special rules.

The special rules are:
  • Rooms 3 & 4 occupy the same space. Adjacent rooms 2, 5, and 10 are connected to 3, while 6 is connected to 4. Heading east from 3 or 4 will take you to room 10. Heading north from 3 returns you to the inn.
  • Rooms 10 & 11 occupy the same space. Heading north from 10 takes you to 7. Heading north from 11 returns to the inn. The treasure chest in room 10 holds moths, and the treasure chest in room 11 holds copper. Heading west from 10 takes you to 3. Heading west from 11 takes you to 4.
  • Room 6 can only be accessed from room 4. Heading east from 6 is a one-way trip to 10. Heading west from 6 returns you to the inn.
  • Room 7 can only be accessed from room 10. Going south from there takes you to room 11.
  • Room 19 can only be accessed from a secret door found in room 11. Walking back through the west wall returns you to room 11.
Some of the other interesting things found here are:
  • A secret door in the starting area leads to a hall full of Merlis' cats, and a chest full of silver.
  • The winding passage in the southeast is full of bees, and leads to a collectable honeycomb which serves as a healing elixir.
  • Room 9 is a laboratory, and here a guinea pig spontaneously explodes as you enter!
  • Room 19 is a hidden closet with respawning magic serpents, and in the southeast corner there is a nearly invisible magic wand.
  • Room 6 holds the best treasure in the level - a chest of 100 gold pieces.
On my return, my intelligence had gone up by one. I'm not sure why - could have been the wand, but the manual seems to suggest the wand is useless.

Level three, Olias's Cellar, has no quest expressly stated, but it sure would be nice to rob him for a change.

With 34 rooms, this is still on the small side for a Dunjonquest map. It's bigger than the previous one, but doesn't have the confusing multi-dimensional rooms. There's a little bit of funny stuff going on with the map here - lots of traps, cave-ins, and one-way doors, but the kicker is that rooms 20 and 15 occupy the same spot on the map, as if 15 is a crawlspace built above 20. They're not exactly the same shape, though, and the doors aren't doing anything too complicated like Merlis' hall of Magic - 12 connects to 20, 19 connects to 15, and both 15 and 20 exit northward to 21. I tweaked the map a bit - you may notice that room 19 is squashed somewhat - to make them fit into a 2D space well enough to make the spiraling path from 20-22 to rooms 17-19 and 15 clearer.

Room 20, south of room 21

Room 15, also south of room 21

Olias' cellar is also home to many cave-dwelling animals, most of them posing no threat to me at all such as bats and moles, but a few are more dangerous, such as bears, vipers, black widows, and creeping cruds, the latter of which did a number on me when I encountered several in a tiny alcove affording no chance to kite around the slow-moving amorphous blobs. A few of Olias' hidden rooms are guarded by other dwarves, who are about on par with bears. Nothing here was much of a threat individually, but battle after battle, not to mention the weight of the dwarf's treasures, wore me down. It took me four trips to clear out the cellar.

One of his treasures - I don't know which, but am guessing a glowing belt found in a huge cache of gems and platinum, raised my strength a point, and with this boost I was able to buy a bastard sword. This was a temporary downgrade from the +2 broadsword I started with, but room 15 contains a magic sword upgrade, which I collected, giving me a +4 enchantment. There is also a quiver of magic arrows on this level, which can't be purchased in this game.

The final level - Benedic's Monastery - is cursed by a vampire, and we are offered fame and glory should we drive it out. We are warned not to bother the monks or steal their possessions. The game does in fact mete out retribution for failing to heed this - monks are generally not hostile, but a few rooms are trapped in a manner which summons an instantly fatal "Spirit of Geb" monster, and only trigger if you've killed the monk in the room. Treasures found in unoccupied bedrooms are trapped and summon hostile Angry Monks, but there's no consequence for killing them. Angry monks may also spawn randomly, and on occasion you may even find a vampire monk - again, both types can be killed with impunity.

The first quadrant is a large courtyard, where a useless-seeming "empty hand" treasure permanently increases your intuition. To the west are the dormitories, where you can steal treasure from sleeping monks without incident, the most valuable of them healing lilies. To the east is a walled garden where low-value food and more lilies can be taken, and to the north of that a foul-smelling kitchen where eating a bit of stale bread increases your constitution, if you survive a mold trap.

Fighting a rat over moldy, stale bread

In the northeast of the monastery is the cemetery, where moderately strong zombies shamble around. Here, a secret passage leads to a spiral staircase downward.

It's linear but can be confusing to navigate.

The vampire lies not at the bottom, but in a secret room halfway down. He isn't that much harder than the zombies, and some fabulous treasure waits in his lair.

At the bottom of the staircase is a room with that old scent of vanilla, and endlessly respawning antmen.

Satisfied that I did everything there is to do, I returned to the inn, reviewed my list of pointless treasures, and closed the game.

Final stats

GAB rating: Below Average. The "rev2" release helped make this a somewhat more pleasant experience with its bug fixes and character saving, and some of the levels have interesting ideas, but Temple of Apshai was always very limited in what it could do as an RPG, and these limits had been hit pretty early on in the original game. I had more fun than I thought I would, but by the last level I was getting burnt out. An expansion pack can only expand on the concept so much by abusing the engine. "Upper Reaches" indeed.

It's curious that Upper Reaches of Apshai not only provides more opportunities for character growth than the first game by means of items that permanently affect stats, but it's also an easier adventure, where I didn't need to use a healing item even once. Maybe the idea was to train starting characters here before moving on to Temple of Apshai and Hellfire Warrior, but if so, that idea came two years too late, by which time I imagine anyone who bought these games new and found them too hard would have either given up or cheated their way through.

There was a second expansion in 1982, Curse of Ra, but I won't be playing it. I wasn't planning to originally, and after this much Dunjonquest, I'm ready to move on. We're not totally through with the series, though - I intend to give The Keys of Acheron, the first expansion to the meatier Hellfire Warrior a try, but I am taking a break from Data Driven Gamer for a little while first.


  1. >but I am taking a break from Data Driven Gamer for a little while first.

    Have a good rest, we'll miss your posts!


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