Chronologically the second game in the series, Datestones of Ryn functions as kind of a prequel to Temple to Apshai, as it shows an episode in the life of Brian Hammerhand as a young soldier, whereas he was depicted as a bedraggled veteran before. His unit has hunted down a band of thieves, who have stolen the valuable Datestones necessary for the calender of Ryn, up to the entrance of a cave. The lieutenant fears an ambush for his men in the dark, so he sends the lowest ranking soldier alone into the cave.
This time Hammerhand is the only available character, as there is no generation process in the game. The bandits have a secret getaway route inside the caves, thus their their impending escape by nightbreak has to be prevented. This limits Hammerhand's quest to 20 minutes and makes the theme for this episode, Automated Simulations' first MicroQuest. Sold at half the price of a regular game, this time there's only one dunjon to explore, which is also significantly smaller than each of the four in the first game.
What initially sounds like a rip-off are Automated Simulations' first awkward steps toward a pairing of RPGs with arcade games, that would eventually culminate in the advent of the action RPG genre: The game is conceived for competetive highscore hunting. The manual even recommends the game for tournament play, in fact the company already held a preview tournament prior to the game's release at the 1979 Pacificon.
Inexcusable, however, seems the loss of room descriptions. When Epyx wanted to go and create an all-out arcadey feel, they might just as well have used random dunjons, or at least included a map editor. Coming from board- and war games, Jon Freeman of all people should have known about the power of customization and randomization. But maybe this was one of the things he couldn't convince Connelley to be feasible in a computer game, a cause of grief for Freeman on more than one occasion. In an Interview on Crush, Crumble & Chomp! he remembered:
I had done some design work in the late '60s for a war game featuring movie monsters, and I had proposed doing such a game at Automated Simulations first in late 1980 and again in early 1981, but my partner in ASI, Jim Connelley, didn't think it could work. The third time I suggested it was shortly after the publication of the board game, The Creature that Ate Sheboygan, which convinced him that such a concept was both plausible and appealing. - Interview conducted by Cybergoth at The Epyx Shrine
Players start out with fixed stats and equipment which they have to use to their best ability to recover the Datestones, which are the most important criterion of scoring, but only if brought back to the exit of the cave in time. Slain brigands and beasts immediately bring extra points, but only the bandit leader's head can outweigh a stone. It is important to weigh carefully between securing the stones at the exit and protruding deeper into the cave, as the time limit usually won't allow two full-on raids. If the time runs out before Hammerhands return to the exit, the Datestones he is currently carrying are forfeit.
While a respectable attempt towards new frontiers, Datestones of Ryn appears as a not fully thought out concept. The game runs on the mostly unchanged Dunjonquest engine of the predecessor, whose reliance on stats and resource management loses most of its meaning when those parameters are fixed from the beginning. The appeal of time management in turn doesn't come to its full potential because of the combat engine's rather high random factor. The time limit is also set so tightly that the question when to return to the exit is really only raised once per game.
Once again the initial platforms were TRS-80 and Commodore PET, with an Apple version following soon, bundled with Morloc's Tower and Starquest: Rescue at Rigel. The differences among these versions is the same as Temple of Apshai. Interesting proves the Atari port, which is inferior compared to the first game. The graphics are less refined, like on Apple computers the protagonist sprite is merely rotated for vertical directions. This divergence is caused by the fact that Datestones of Ryn was in fact released on Atari computers earlier than Apshai. Together with Rescue at Rigel and Invasion Orion, it was among the first games Automated Simulations ported to the system.
There is also a Commodore 64 disk image floating around the net, but it is very likely that it was inofficially converted from the PET, as it is completely identical safe for the font and standard colors. Apart from this probable bootleg, Datestones of Ryn marks the begin of a slow decline in ports. Not only a proper Commodore 64 port is missing, but also the VIC-20 and IBM-PC platforms are neglected. Given that those conversions were among the latest for Temple of Apshai, this may have to do with Epyx discontinuing the series.
Comparison Screenshots - Datestones of Ryn
Once again it's time to act for Brian Hammerhand. Coming to a small town called Hagedorn during his travels, he learns that its citizens are terrorized by a mad wizard, fittingly named Morloc the Mad. Before he can say dunjon crawl, he gets hired by the local elders to put an end to Morloc's rampage. Great peril awaits him in the wizard's tower, for Morloc has dabbled in demonology, and the halls are swarmed with evil creatures. But that is not all, Morloc himself is known almost impossible to capture, as his magic makes him a master of getaways.
Morloc's Tower is a MicroQuest like Datestones of Ryn, but it features several interesting alterations to the formula that make it more worthwhile despite the small scope. The tower consists of six stories, which can all be accessed by one staircase, each being no larger than one single screen. While this makes navigation much easier than ever before, the task to find and kill the wizard is the most complex in any Dunjonquest so far. Unlike Datestones of Ryn, all the rooms have numbers like in the big Dunjonquest games, but there are no descriptions for them in the manual. Maybe descriptions were planned, but in the end got cut for whatever reason. The only room numbers listed are those that contain the staircase, as in the game there is no visual representation of it whatsoever.
For the first time a computer RPG was mixed with adventure elements, which always had been a staple in the better P&P adventures. The treasures found in the tower are more than just stock loot or weapons. Many of them are unique items that can be used through a new special command, and some are required in the correct situation to solve the quest. Some have an immediate effect on your character, like a ring that regenerates health over time, while others are just red herrings that encumber the hero with unneeded ballast. After locating Morloc, players have to find a way to keep him from escaping to other rooms in the tower, which is impossible without using the right items. Not confident all of their customers would adapt to this novel kind of problem solving, Automated Simulations provided hints in multiple degrees of concreteness, up to a complete solution printed headfirst in a tiny font at the end of the manual. This precaution might have been for the better, as the requirements to solve the "puzzles" are very cryptic, typically for early RPG games (compare the early Ultima episodes or even later console games like Zelda 2 or Castlevania 2). The game gives no information at all about the nature of found items, and only few can be guessed through observation, like a magical sword that starts glowing in certain situations.
Like in the first MicroQuest, you're stuck with Brian Hammerhand as a premade character. This time you don't even get to see his base attributes, there's just a screen introducing his starting equipment. The dunjon layout is also fixed as always, but the game takes random elements just a little bit further than its predecessors. Treasures appear at different locations and even seemingly fixed enemies might not appear all the time. Morloc himself freely moves around inside the tower until you stop him. There's no hard time limit in this episode, but time factors importantly into the score rating in the end.
Morloc's Tower is also the first Dunjonquest game that allows to choose between three difficulty levels that affect the number of magical arrows, potions, monster strength, etc. The lowest setting is easier than your average episode in the series, especially after finding the ring for health regeneration. The harder settings are more of a challenge, though.
Once again the characteristics of most ports remain the same, with the exception of the version for Atari computers. Morloc's Tower is the aesthetically worst of the Dunjonquest ports for the system, with pseudo-monochrome graphics and missing footstep sounds (but with very annoying door noises). It is also either programmed in a way that no emulator can run it properly, or the only known preserved dump of the game in this version is broken.
Comparison Screenshots - Morloc's Tower
After a couple of short filler games and spin-offs, Freeman and Connelley finally delivered a true sequel to their early hit Temple of Apshai. The man called Hammerhand still resides in the small town he freed from the evil influence of the ant god in the previous episode, except it is no longer a small town. The treasures of the Apshaians have lured fortune hunters and cutthroats into the settlement, which not only brought troubles but also provided a major boost for the local economy, leading to significant expansion. Now there is a separate armory, an apothecary and a magic shop. According to the manual, "in addition to a multitude of inns, alehouses, and bordellos", but you won't be visiting those in the game.
For Brian Hammerhand has a greater concern than the petty pleasures the town's new prosperity has to offer. For nights he has been haunted by a strange dream, in which he stumbles upon a sleeping woman inside the darkest and most frightening depths. He picks her up and searches for a way out, but each time he is held back by the personified Death himself, and suddenly wakes up with the mark of is touch on his skin.
His old friend Merlis the magician reveals to him that he dreamt of Brynhild, a warrior queen of days long past, who indeed has been sleeping far beneath the caverns and ruins for centuries, as a punishment for an offense long forgotten. The only thing that can wake her is pure sunlight, and thus Brian heads down into the dunjons again to find and rescue her.
As a direct sequel to Temple of Apshai, Hellfire Warrior assumes players who have mastered the previous game and also bring their high-leveled characters with them. The game goes to great length to explain how the first stage is actually called level 5, not only because it continues after Apshai's fourth level, but also because it is meant for characters on experience level 5. An ingenius concept, with the sole problem that the game never actually displays a character's level. Newly created characters, however, begin with a startup boost of 21,000 EXP, so that might serve as a benchmark.
To better prepare oneself for the challenges at hand, players now have access to the three shops mentioned above, with the inn itself merely serving as a hub to them and the dunjons. The weaponry offers the same as the inn did before, with the exception of healing salves, which are now found at the apothecary, besides the stronger elixir and fatigue-reducing nektar. Not enough, the drugstore also offers a variety of special draughts, which give temporary bonus to certain attributes. They are available in limited supply, though, and the manual suggests that taking too much of these drugs may have hidden adverse effects - your character can actually become addicted to substances and suffer from deprivation.
While magic weapons used to be rare goods found only in the deepest corners of the Temple of Apshai, the magician can now finally enchant ordinary weapons and armor, although the higher enchantment factors are obscenely expensive. Magic arrows and other artefacts are also bought here.
Further magical items with obscure effects and even two kinds of special ranged weapons are found in the dunjons, but lacking a proper inventory for those, it's hard to keep track of the amulets, helmets and rings collected, and even harder to discern the purpose of most. The character import function doesn't account for them, either, so it's strongly reccomendable to use the disk save function between sessions (bad luck for owners of the tape version back then). Those treasures, however, are by no means necessary to succeed in the game.
Very different to Apshai, where your objective was just to hoard more and more wealth and experience, the dunjons in Hellfire Warrior actually come with specific objectives, although the game doesn't check their fulfillment. Just as before, all four dunjon levels are selectable from the beginning, it's up to the player to restrain oneself to the ones "unlocked" by completing the previous challenge, or not. There's still no other on-screen reward but the account of treasures, which the game now calculates into money for you. For some reason you have the option to disagree on the calculated value, but it just causes the game to reprompt the question indefinitely.
The first dunjon, level 5, is described as lying directly beneath Apshai's 4th one, fittingly called the "Lower Reaches of Apshai". This (re-)introductory area is meant to give new characters some less dangerous means to gather a small fortune and maybe a few magical items. It is populated by the same kind of insectoid creatures as the first game, and also offers little interesting in terms of dunjon design, except for malicious magic doors that only allow passage in one direction, which can effectively foil the escape plans of the unwary explorer.
Level 6 is very particular for the whole series, because it can really only be beaten in the way the designers intended for it. In contrast to all other dunjons, the entrance immediately locks itself behind you, forcing you to find the only exit. Based on the mythical labyrinth of the Minotaur, the level is full of bull-human hybrids, and of course a confusing labyrinth with tons of dead-ends and same-looking hallways. Therefore, Automated Simulations left out the individual room descriptions for the labyrinth, supposedly to make orientation even harder. This is made up for with the elaborate narrations that come with every treasure in the labyrinth, which in the end are more rich and meaningful as most of the more generic room descriptions in level 5 or 7. After all, a boring hallway is often just a boring hallway, and no flowery eulogy can make them more interesting.
T17 - There is a sizeable hoard in the stegotaur lair (bless their greedy little hearts and grasping large claws), but much of it is junk and some just revolting. Spying a fine pair of boots of amazing lightness, you hastily don them and, even more hurriedly, stuff a few pounds of coins, gauds, and baubles into your pack before departing the area.
Level 7 is "The Vault of the Dead", in which the key to the deepest ruins (Level 8) is hidden. The enemies here are zombies, mummies and other stock undead, the map is huge and designed to slowly wear you down in your search for the key. This is the original introduction of the dreaded attribute-eating monsters that also appear in the Temple of Apshai expansions (but they are much less of a pain than in Curse of Ra). Other foul obstacles are invisible specres and an abundance of hidden traps.
The last level finally takes you to "The Plains of Hell" to rescue the damsel in her 300-year distress. The demon-infested firepit might disappoint at first glance, since it does appear like it's all just one huge empty plain. This, however, is all part of a rather tricky and once again very obfuscate puzzle. The manual has as much sense as to give hints encoded in a cypher for this and the Minotaur labyrinth, though. (If only it wasn't for the huge trouble the engine has with those open, wall-less rooms, same as the first level of Upper Reaches of Apshai) It isn't enough to just reach the warrior queen, though. You then have to carry her to open daylight in order to wake her up, which with her proud 150 pounds (let's suppose she's still wearing her armor) is no easy task. And of course there's Death waiting for you around the corner ...
Hellfire Warrior sports some of the most well-designed maps in the entire series, and its story and theme are astonishingly immersive. Some of the room descriptions feel a bit unmotivated, though, and the writing really shines when it confines itself to show the really important moments of the adventure in Level 6 and 8, namely the many treasures and traps. The difficulty also helps the dunjon raids a great deal and makes for a tension that is missing in Temple of Apshai's expansions or the micro quests.
On the other hand, it still is fairly easy to overpower the character. All enemies are fairly slow, and as soon as you get a pair of 7-League Boots you can easily run away from anything. Also, the manual can backbite other RPGs for their "inflated currency" all it wants, the four dunjons hold enough gold and gems to acquire yourself a piece of impenetrable magical armor. Once again it's mostly a reward for the player that's sorely missing. Your rescued maid ist no more than a number on the treasure bill (she's "worth" exactly zero gold pieces).
Nonetheless Hellfire Warrior is the best game in the whole series and a fine dunjon crawl RPG even today, yet it couldn't wholly repeat the success of Temple of Apshai. While the earlier game practically had the market for itself, Hellfire Warrior went into direct competition with Ultima and Wizardry, who easily banned the game to the third place among fantasy RPGs. Unfortunately, the series' conversion decay had also already set in, so after the obligatory TRS-80, PET and Apple releases, there were no more new ports other than the Atari 400/800. That one, however, is based on the excellent engine version already used in Temple to Apshai, making it once more the definite platform to go for.
Expansions for Hellfire Warrior were published alongside the Temple of Apshai add-ons. While the engine had experienced several improvements with the newer game, the higher popularity of Apshai probably prevented Automated Simulations from abandoning it altogether, but at least the more obscure Hellfire Warriors was also supported with two sets of maps. The first of these, dubbed Keys of Acheron, was designed by Paul Reiche III, who soon after left the company following Freeman to work with him at Free Fall Associates. Even later he became famous for creating the first two Star Control games.
The story is plain and simple: Summoned by the mighty wizard Abosandrus, you have to travel to different dimensions in order to recover four magical gems, the Keys of Acheron. Only their power can put a stop to the evildoing of the demon lord Kronus, who plans to invade the Earth and of course isn't exactly enthusiastic about the plan. The search for the keys leads you to the lair of a dragon, a temple within a prehistoric jungle (complete with dinosaurs), the inside of a dead volcano and finally the realm of Kronus himself.
For a long time, no working combination of Hellfire Warrior and Keys of Acheron was preserved from any platform. More recently both the the Apple II and Atari versions have become available, finally making it possible again to experience this episode.
The last release to ever bear the DunjonQuest label anywhere on the box, Danger in Drindisti plays along with the structure of four independet sub-quests for one greater goal that was introduced in Keys of Acheron. The land is terrorized by Bandits, Dragons and worse. As the greatest warrior of Drindisti you're called in by the wizard king Yoturni, who suspects one of his four arch enemies to be behind all the trouble. He doesn't know which one, but he just sends you out to kill them all. Can't be sure enough.
The dunjons in this second expansion are numbered 6 through 9, but since it was hard-coded into the Hellfire Warrior-engine not to display any room numbers in level 6 and 8, the recommended order of play is actually 7-6-9-8, corresponding to their difficulty.
The level numbering isn't the only confusing thing in Danger in Drindisti, though. The first dunjon (No. 7) starts out with a deceptive glass labyrinth, where walls seemingly appear out of nowhere at any given time. It also includes an incredibly cryptic puzzle involving fragile glass statues. That, however, is nothing compared to "The Abode of the Illusionist", an impossible maze that makes no sense, with space bending itself and hallways that lead into endless loops.
Level 9 (which means the third one. Confused yet?) is the only normal dunjon in the game, a huge temple and hideout to the high priest of a cult of demon worshippers. "Normal" shouldn't be taken for the misguided conclusion that it won't send you running around clueless in search for the inner chambers. Level 8 finally is basically the same as the illusionists' hideout, only it throws you into a huge nothingness, with no walls or other landmarks whatsoever. The only way to solve it is to run around aimlessly for hours in hope to stumble upon a mysterious sage (represented as a treasure chest, as the engine doesn't support any friendly NPCs in the dunjons) by chance, who shows the way to the altar of the demigod, the last target in this impossible hit job.
While Hellfire Warrior knew that its puzzles were damn cryptic and provided hints for the more aggravating sections in the manual, Dangers in Drindisti just throws you in at the deep end, and that means much, much deeper compared to the main game. Most dunjon designs are just lazy in their reliance on one unfair gimmick, which makes Drindisti not only frustrating, but also really boring (with the exception of the demon worshipper's temple). If the solutions to Ultima II and Simon's Quest were too obvious and logical for you, this might be the game/expansion for you.
With the exception of Temple of Apshai, all games in the Dunjonquest series are rarities, but Sorcerer of Siva might be the most inaccessible of them all. Developed in 1981, it was the very last standalone release and besides the original TRS-80 version only ported to Apple II computers. The game was written and designed by Gene Rice, although Jon Freeman was still involved in creating the lore book/manual.
Once again an evil sorcerer needs slaying, but this time the villain has the reins in his hands, having trapped the player inside the Mines of Siva, a system of tunnels full of dangers and undiscovered treasures. In contrast with all other Dunjonquest games, Sorcerer of Siva puts players themselves in the shoes of a wizard. So for the first time they command an array of different spells, which not only replace the different attack variants used in the former games, but also fulfill special functions, like teleporting or locating stairways, which are necessary to get around in the mines. In addition to the familiar fatigue meter (which now uses descriptive attributes instead of the former percentual numbers) the hero now also maintains an aura, which represents the ability to cast further spells. It starts out purple, but changes colors with each subsequent spell use, until it turns red, at which point it is necessary to regenerate. As you control a physically weak wizard, fatigue is also much more critical than before. There is a spell refresh one's stamina, but of course the effect is partially cancelled out by the weakening aura. One of the two is almost always at short supply.
Sorcerer of Siva takes a further step towards more action-oriented gameplay. Enemies spawn like crazy on almost all screens. At one point the evil sorcerer randomly appears and - unless he is quickly disposed of - casts a spell of forgetfullness that deletes one of the seven spells known by the player character. He is fairly easy to defeat, though, so the danger of losing spells is not too great. There are also rare items, the Touchstones, that can help the player character remember lost spells.
Though technically in a line with Datestones of Ryn and Morloc's Tower, Sorcerer of Siva actually can't be called a MicroQuest, anymore. The mines consist of six huge stories, with more than 300 screens total. Most stories at first seem linear, but after you first find yourself in a dead end, you'll learn to value the teleport spell that opens up previously unknown parts of the mines.
The big problem with the huge extent of the dunjon lies in the unability to save the game, which Sorcerer of Siva shares with the much shorter episodes. To make things really frustrating, the corridors are full of trap doors that send you back to even below the starting position, no matter how far you've proceeded in the game. Those trap doors can't be found with the search for traps command, making exhaustive trial&error and minute map making the only means to figure out the labyrinth. As if all that wasn't enough frustration, the exit of the mines gets locked up after a certain amount of time, leaving players trapped in the mines, with their score presented at their death as the only solace.
There are eight difficulty settings that determine how many spells the protagonist has remembered at the beginning of the game and his starting position, as well as 10 settings for the duration of each turn. The game is more than hard enough with the lowest settings, though, so those options are only interesting for the most able.
The setting inside the mines brought Automated Simulations to try and give the dunjon a more organic look, as far as that is even possible on the TRS-80, with an effective resolution of 48x48 for the graphics window. (Technically, the TRS-80 used 128x48 pixels for graphics, but the DunjonQuest engine had them vertically scaled by factor 2, and of course a third of the screen was used for status information.) The Apple port does a better job at the new look, and for the first time features distinguished graphics for the different treasure types, making it possible to identify items (and decide whether they're worth the hassle) before picking them up.
Sorcerer of Siva explores many new options for the series and plays out most distinctively among all DunjonQuest games. This distinctiveness is not for the better, though, as the new conditions make the game practically unbearable to finish.
Comparison Screenshots - Sorcerer of Siva