Thursday, 6 October 2016

Missed Classic: Dungeon - Beyond the Troll

Written by Joe Pranevich

When we left off last week, I had just explored the opening areas of Dungeon (a forest, an artist’s studio, and a bank) and had come across an enemy that served as a sort-of gatekeeper for the rest of the labyrinth: a troll. I was able to defeat him with some handy swordplay and emerged into the rest of the Great Underground Empire.

Unfortunately, here is where my straightforward narrative breaks down. The Empire is-- as I just rediscovered-- huge. To cover the ground that I did in this post, I had to backtrack a great deal as I poked at each puzzle in turn to try to find the ones that I could solve and the ones that I needed to put off for later. The best way that I can express this is that Dungeon is an “open world” adventure game with a ton of different areas that opened up at once. To make this easier to follow, I will break up the narrative as best I can by region. I’m really “solving” these in parallel, but I don’t need to bore you with page after page of trying out false leads and then restoring. But first, we need to talk about combat!

I want to cast “magic missile!”

Before I delve deeper into the game, I want to talk a bit about the process of defeating the troll. I mentioned in the introduction that this game (unlike Colossal Cave) was also inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. While the original Adventure had combat, it was simplistic with either scripted events (combat against the dragon) or random die rolls (combat against the dwarves). Dungeon appears to be more sophisticated, though I can’t tell how much so yet.

Unlike in a RPG, there are no visible stats like “hit points”, but you can see some basic idea of your health with the “diagnose” command:

You are in perfect health.
You can be killed by a serious wound.

Combat with the troll is divided into rounds where each of us seem to get one move. Even typing “diagnose” counts as a move so checking how you are doing is a surefire way to die quickly. I fought the battle a couple of times to put together this post and there are a bunch of different possible combat texts both for us and for him. For example:

  • The troll swings. The blade turns on your armor but crashes broadside into your head.
  • The flat of the troll's axe hits you delicately on the head, knocking you out.
  • Conquering his fears, the troll puts you to death.

I think you get the idea. The overall effect is organic, a nice DM who keeps the details of the game mechanics hidden while letting you know when you are in dire straights. I don’t know how many more combats we’ll face, nor do I know if there are other hidden stats. I vaguely remember from Zork I that your score (the amount of treasure you pick up) had an impact on how successful your attacks would be. I have no idea if that is true for that game or whether the same holds true for Dungeon. We’ll have to see as the game progresses.

The final strange thing is that when you engage in combat you get some visual representation of what appear to be your die rolls. It’s jarring and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone just left some debugging turned on in my version of the game. Do any of you that are playing along see the same thing? Any theories as to what it all means?

>kill troll with sword
BLOW 10-- 1 19 1 T 0
BLOW 2050-- 2 2 1 1 20
BLOW 2650-- 2 3008 896 -2321 885
The troll takes a final blow and slumps to the floor dead.

It seems that the troll is a very easy combat since I won nearly every time that I tried. A few times he was able to knock me unconscious and then kill me; once I was able to do the same to him and I had the option of whether or not to make the killing blow. There is enough depth to this system that it seems almost out of place in a treasure-hunting adventure. I also can’t shake the feeling that there is a nonviolent solution to get past the troll. I hope that I’ve not dead-ended myself already.

Here there be dragons… er… trolls.

Initial Explorations

My next couple of hours are spent trying to get the lay of the land in broad strokes and fill in gaps on my maps. Just to give you a flavor, here are a few things I find:

  • Immediately south of the troll’s role is a “Maze of Twisty Little Passages All Alike” just like in Colossal Cave. I’d like to call this more homage than plagiarism, but I skip on mapping it for now.
  • A “Loud Room” that you find my following some ravines north of the troll’s room. It contains a Platinum Bar which is most likely a treasure, but I can’t pick it up because the room is so loud that we cannot hear ourselves think: anything we type is just repeated back to us in ALL CAPS. I’ll be on the lookout for earplugs.
  • A “Round Room” just south of that where your compass spins wildly. Every time you leave it chucks you out a random exit so mapping is very challenging.

One of the exits from that Round Room lands me in a room with a riddle. I have to answer the question: “What is tall as a house, round as a cup, and all the king’s horses can’t draw it up?” That’s simple! I answer that it’s a “well” and I’m able to pass into a room containing a Pearl Necklace and access to what appears to be the bottom of a giant-sized well.

What could it mean?

The well really looks like it may belong to a giant. The bucket is three feet in diameter, easily large enough for is to climb into and out of it. I suspect we’ll be able to ride to the top, but there’s no visible way to do that yet. There are etchings on the wall (the image above), but I can’t make heads or tails of what they mean. I even cheated and ran the letters through an anagram solver, but no solutions are readily apparent. We can see the word “AGILE” in the middle in a circle, but none of the other letters seem to make much sense together.

Unfortunately, this is also the point where my exploration needed to end: my lantern ran out of batteries. In Colossal Cave, there was a place to get more in one of the mazes, but I have no idea if the same will hold true here. Let’s find out!

Maize of Twisty Little Passages all Alike

Maze of Twisty Passages

I restore back to just after I defeated the troll and gather as many items as I can carry. If there are replacement batteries in the maze, it’ll be a nice little homage to Colossal Cave. I don’t have my hope up because that may be a bit too on point, but we’ll see. My plan is to follow the traditional model for adventure game maze mapping: drop one item in every non-unique room to differentiate it, noting each explored exit in a spreadsheet. Almost immediately, I realize that this game has a major challenge that previous games did not: the Thief. While I am dropping and mapping, I get little messages like this one:

Off in the distance you hear someone saying, "My, I wonder what this fine glass bottle is doing here?"

I rush back to discover that my precious bottle has been moved somewhere. So, I drop a different item in the room, update my spreadsheet, and keep mapping. Sometimes I’m even lucky enough to find the missing item in another room nearby and sometimes not. This is a much slower and more difficult process than I was expecting.

It wasn’t too long into mapping that I found the first special room: a skeleton and his adventuring gear. His lantern is marked as useless (and there is no way to get the battery out), but he also was carrying a rusty knife, keys, and some golden coins. Now, this is how you do a Colossal Cave homage! If you touch the skeleton he curses you and sends all your treasure away, but I just restore to resolve that problem. Picking up the rusty knife is also interesting: doing so causes your sword to flash quickly a blinding blue light. What could that mean? In any event, the coins are probably a treasure (or currency) so I’ll be sure to hold on to them for now.

But honestly, I can’t get much farther than that. I have found (but not mapped all exits from) 16 rooms, but after that it becomes impossible. There is no way to juggle all the items the Thief is moving fast enough to make progress. Just as I’m giving up and trying to find my way back to a room I recognize, I wander into another special room: the cyclops! Why not a minotaur? Wouldn’t that have been the better mythological choice?

He’s just subbing today. Otmin is out sick.

The cyclops attacks and kills me even when I fight back using the sword. He seems much more powerful than the troll. I’m not going to win that way. When I try to use the new rusty knife that I picked up, I get a very unexpected (and dark) response:

As the knife approaches its victim, your mind is submerged by an overmastering will. Slowly, your hand turns, until the rusty blade is an inch from your neck. The knife seems almost to sing as it savagely cuts your throat.

That is not okay. I opt for a less violent approach and give the cyclops a sandwich. He likes that very much! He then asks for something to drink, but try as I might I can’t get him to take the water. Is there something else I need to do? Does this game have a second beverage for a thirsty cyclops to drink?

In the end, I give up. I don’t find a way to defeat the cyclops either through combat or trickery and I can’t map well enough to know if there is more to find in the maze. I’ll have to come back later, especially if I find a way to neutralize the Thief. I restore back to the house and take a brief dive in just to get the coins and other stuff, but the rest will have to wait.

Flood Control Dam #3

Flood Control Dam #3 and environs.

Since I didn’t find the batteries in the maze, I will lead little expeditions into the underground to map then restore back when I’m done to conserve turns. I can then fetch any treasures I find using as few turns (and battery life) as possible. It’s slow going, but it’s the only way I have to keep advancing against this timer.

Just on the other side of the troll room is a warren of chasms and other rooms leading to the world-famous “Flood Control Dam #3”. I had been here briefly before as the “Loud Room” connects here plus several of the passages get me into the “Round Room”. Since we can’t tell directions in that room, sometimes finding my way back to where I was exploring is impossible. Thankfully, we can always just restore!

Solving the “Loud Room” turns out to be pretty easy: no matter what you type, the room just types it back at you. Except to leave, there’s no action you can take. But how could I avoid typing “ECHO” in that room, just to see it echoed back? Of course, I couldn’t. When you do that, the game lets you know that the harmonics have shifted and now you can pick up the platinum bars and treat the room just like normal. Puzzle solved!

Not too far from there is the infamous “Flood Control Dam #3” that we could see (!!) from the canyon outside. The dam itself consists of three rooms: one with a panel with buttons and a sluice gate; a waiting room containing a matchbook and a guidebook; and a maintenance room with a number of buttons, a tube of “gunk”, a screwdriver, and a wrench. Reading the guide demonstrates that this is another area where the developers had already plotted out the backstory: the dam was built in 783 GUE at the cost of 37 million zorkmids, funded by Lord Dimwit Flathead the Excessive. It was built in 112 days by 384 slaves and overseen by 312,545 miscellaneous bureaucrats and paper pushers. Talk about excessive!

I do not play with the buttons yet, but it’s a puzzle I’ll come back to. Exploring the banks of the Frigid River near the dam, I find a room containing a shovel and some bat guano and another that contains a plastic boat and a sharp stick. Unfortunately, I do not have enough lung-power to inflate the boat so I’ll be looking for a pump of some kind. As for the shovel and guano? Who the heck knows.

The Temple

Bells, books, and candles!

Two of the exits from the Round Room lead to a vaguely religious-themed area. Just outside a temple, I find a room containing a (the?) grail. I can open and close it, but there’s nothing inside. Is it just a treasure item? Or something else? Inside the two rooms of the temple are a bell, a book, and some candles. I remember those! You can use those to get past some door with spirits elsewhere in the maze. Reading the book also gives you a hint that evildoers will have their eyes put out by a sharp stick-- is that a hint for the cyclops? I also vaguely remember a way to read other pages in the book in Zork I, but that doesn’t seem to work here or I don’t remember how to do it. Nearby, there is also a room with a large wall mirror. We’ll get back to that in a few minutes.

I barely explore any further before I find the demonic room I remember. It even has a sign: “Abandon Hope Ye Who Enter Here”. A stray gust of wind put out my candles out along the way, but the matchbook that I found at the dam works just fine to light them again. I ring the bell, I read the book, and I light the candles. I wait expectantly. I do it again. I was pretty sure this was the solution to get past the spirits and descend into Hades, but I must be doing it wrong. I’ll need to come back later when I have some new ideas or items.

I also get briefly excited by the candles: when in the temple itself, they appear to burn forever. Are they the solution to my battery problem? The answer is regretfully no as once you remove them they will quickly burn down and go out. Since we probably need those for a puzzle, my quest for a more permanent light source must continue.

Through the Looking Glass & The Coal Mine

Curiouser and curiouser...

Not getting anywhere with the temple area, I went back to look at the mirrored room. The solution to that puzzle was simple: when you touch the mirror, you pass through! (Breaking the mirror doesn’t reveal a passage, so it must be magic.) That revealed a wholly different part of the map that needed to be explored.

The first little mystery I discover is a slide back to the cellar! That may be useful. It’s in a room with a suspiciously-labeled “Granite Wall”. Why would someone write that on the wall if it wasn’t to draw your attention that maybe it wasn’t granite after all? I’m not sure. In any event, I don’t find anything I can do with it yet.

Further in is a large coal mine section. I take the northwest fork and find myself in a room with a very large bat. He quickly scoops me up and deposits me in a “Coal Mine” maze, just like the Twisty Passages one except with a less catchy name. I didn’t bring enough items with me to map it (because I’ve been making little journeys with as little as possible as I can still only return to the surface carrying one object at a time). I end up stuck and have to reload. On the next attempt, I carry some of the garlic and guano with me, expecting one of them to help in some way and it does! The garlic causes the bat to hold its nose and I am able to steal its Jade Figurine without a problem. Another treasure! A few rooms further in, I discover a Sapphire Bracelet in a “smelly” room. I pick it up without an issue. If there’s a puzzle here, I don’t see it. And finally, I find a well with a bucket that I can raise and lower, but there’s nothing in the bucket and no obvious reason to use it. It also doesn’t seem to be related to the big well I found earlier. I’ll mark that to puzzle out later.

Having returned my items to safe-keeping, I return with more stuff so that I can map out the Coal Mine maze. The Thief is here too, but thankfully there are only seven rooms and I was able to work it out before running out of stuff. That led to a ladder deeper into the mine where I found some coal, some tinder, and a small crack that I could not squeeze through without dropping all my stuff. I get killed by a grue on the other side, so there must be a way to carry a light source through…

Not really having the solution to these problems yet, I finish exploring the rest of the rooms on the eastern side of the mirror. I discover a trident and an air pump! Well, I know what that’s used for! Time to go rafting!

Working in a coal mine, goin’ down… down… down...

Wrapping Up

Wow, has time flown! Without really noticing it, I’ve spent more than seven hours in this game and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. What’s more, I’m not bored and there’s still so much low-hanging fruit to explore. There are still a ton of exits that I haven’t traveled down yet.

Next time, I’m going to try to inflate the raft to explore the river. I’m also going to try using the stick on the cyclops and see if I can find any more special rooms in the Maze of Twisty Little Passages. I might also try fiddling with all the buttons at the Flood Control Dam #3. See you soon!

Time played: 4 hr 20 min
Total time: 7 hr 05 min
Treasures Found: 9 (Egg, Painting, Portrait, Pearl Necklace, Coins, Platinum Bar, Grail, Sapphire Bracelet, Crystal Trident)


  1. Nice, a John Bauer painting, always liked his art style.

  2. "I wait expectantly. I do it again. I was pretty sure this was the solution to get past the spirits and descend into Hades, but I must be doing it wrong."

    Reading the coverage of Dungeon in CRPG Adventures (by Nathan Mahney), I noticed this might have something to do with different versions of the game. Nathan had the exact same problem, when playing a version written in Fortran, but when he changed into a version written in MDL, the puzzle worked as you thought it would. I don't really know whether there's a different solution in the version you are playing or whether it's a bug, but you might want to check out several versions of the game.

    1. That was the solution to the puzzle in Zork I and maybe even a different version of "Dungeon". As you say, there may be multiple versions.

      I solved this one already and will write about it soon. I had exactly the right approach, but this game just requires you to have all three items and do an "exorcism" to achieve the effect. Still stuck on the next part, but I made it further. That will probably be in next week's post but I have so many puzzles going on at once that I'm sort of picking my battles to try to make these as readable as possible.

    2. I'm interested to see your next post about what worked as the solution, as the solution I recall from Zork I - which is the same solution that worked in the 646 point version I'm playing - is close to, but not *quite* exactly, what you described trying in this post.

    3. Yep, that's the exact problem I had, and I never figured out an alternate solution. As Ilmari said, I had to switch to a different version of the game (it was coded in multiple languages simultaneously, if my research is correct).

  3. I'm surprised you found the bell, book, and candle all together - I would have expected you to have to do a treasure hunt to find them. Those are the (Shakespeare, I think) traditional items for performing an exorcism. Was there anything to exercise in the Abandon All Hope room? (Which of course is a Dante reference to the entrance to Hell.)

    The etchings at the bottom of the well might be part of a message where other letters have faded, eroded, or been scratched out. But nothing jumps to mind from them. If I recall, I couldn't solve this in Zork either, but came across the solution years later.

    The obvious beverage for the Cyclops is wine; you might keep an eye out for wine or grapes. I don't remember him at all from Zork.

    The "smelly" room might contain sulfur that can be scraped/mined somehow. That comes to mind because traditionally you make gunpowder from charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate (aka saltpeter), and you have the other two - bat guano is rich in saltpeter.

    1. Oh wow. I love the sulphur + saltpeter + charcoal idea, especially since my head is half in "Star Trek" right now and Kirk used that approach against the Gorn in a very famous episode.

  4. A run putting together everything you've solved to date, and also putting all treasures found so far in the trophy case, works out to a total of 169 points. Rank: Junior Adventurer.

    1. Thank you for this. I haven't been as good at keeping track of my score as I should be. I don't think about it much when playing since there is so much left to do.

    2. No problem. One other minor thing I just noticed: your "list of treasures found" is missing the Jade Figurine that was guarded the bat. So you actually have 10 so far. __% of the way there! (And no of course I'm not going to reveal how many treasures exist.) ;)

  5. So after some research and experimentation, I'm fairly confident that the versions we both are playing have introduced a bug in one of the puzzles you've encountered. Meaning that something you already tried SHOULD have worked as a solution, but didn't, solely because of the bug. It's not crippling as the puzzle has an alternate solution. (And no I'm not talking about the bell/book/candles puzzle.)

    I'm ROT13'ing the below as a precaution, but even with that I'm not giving away any hints as to the puzzle's alternate solution. What the below explains is (1) the puzzle that's bugged, and (2) what SHOULD have worked for you, but didn't.


    Gur chmmyr vf gur plpybcf. Lrf, lbh NER fhccbfrq gb or noyr gb tvir uvz gur jngre nsgre tvivat uvz gur yhapu; ur qevaxf gur jngre naq gura snyyf nfyrrc, erzbivat uvz nf n guerng naq nyybjvat lbh cnffntr gb gur arkg ebbz. Nf gung qbrfa'g frrz gb jbex va lbhe irefvba (be va zvar - "tvir jngre" rdhngrf gb "cbhe jngre" naq V whfg qhzc vg ba gur tebhaq hfryrffyl), lbh'yy unir gb svther bhg na nygreangr fbyhgvba gb gur plpybcf chmmyr. Ab uvagf sbe gung urer!

    1. Outside of rot13, can you tell me which puzzle this is? My play is a bit ahead of my writing (because it takes time to get it in and formatted and such... especially since I'm trying to juggle two games) and I'll keep tabs on that when I come back to it.

    2. Sure. It's the cyclops puzzle.

  6. The etchings are clearly a future political joke


    -> You go to the Obama Pile. There is a president here...

    1. Ah, thanks to your post, I reexamined the diagram of the etchings. Each line is one word with some missing letters, and I've figured out the first three words from the context of the game. It can be guessed!

      As for the fourth word, it will probably be the key magic word you need to know.

    2. You may be better at this than me, but I did try something like that. I used a crossword solver (is that allowed? er... I was desperate...) and was trying things like "A__G__I" and not really finding anything

      I'll come back to this in a bit. This game has no shortage of other puzzles to work on.

    3. "As for the fourth word, it will probably be the key magic word you need to know."

      I am pretty sure the fourth word will be just "Pbzcnal".

    4. (This is NOT a puzzle spoiler.) Speaking of magic words... have you tried any classic ones?

  7. I'm playing right now and the Thief just stole the mirror! The "enormous mirror that fills the entire wall!" Man, he's got some deep pockets!

  8. I'm wondering what happens if you try "QUACK" in the Echo room. I wouldn't be surprised if it had the same effect as ECHO did, despite the fact that contrary to popular myth, duck's quacks DO echo.

  9. I think you were right, and the etchings ARE an anagram. You need an agile "bampoo," which is what comes out of a panda's backside after it chows down on its stereotypical food.