Back in the late 1980’s, I was an avid Apple II gamer. I had a IIe and my best friend had an Apple IIGS. Having seen very little IIGS specific software, I came to the conclusion that the IIGS was just a glorified IIe with the ability to change color of the text, background and border, while running all my IIe programs at several times their normal speed. It wasn’t until my friend picked up the game Dungeon Master that I saw the what the 16 bit machine could do. It brought to life a menacing dungeon filled with cunning traps and horrifying monsters.

Reviewed by: Dain Neater��
Written by FTL Games

Published by FTL Games
Price varies, available used only

Gameplay 4/5
Sound 4/5
Graphics 4/5
Music n/a n/a
Overall 4/5

The initial screen; click Enter to start a game,
Resume to load a saved game.

The Story

As the story unfolds, your master, the Grey Lord, was seeking the Power Gem. Through dark experiments he finally gained what he saught, or so he believed. What he wasn’t prepared for was the incredible power of the Magicks involved; he rends himself in two and tears the world apart. The Grey Lord now exists as two distinct entities. One of these forces, Lord Chaos, has taken it upon himself to bring the world under his iron grip, while the opposing life force Lord Librasulus has come to you to help restore order.

Various attempts have been made to bring down Lord Chaos; all have failed. The doomed heroes who attempted this task were have been within the “Hall of Champions.” In a last ditch effort your master has awakened your life force to rescue four heroes and lead them against the Darkness. It is up to you to enter the Hall, revive four champions and lead them into the depths of the dungeon, to find the Firestaff, the one object with the power to defeat Chaos and restore order.


A character in the Hall of Champions.

The Basics: Health/Stamina/Mana

At the beginning, after you have chosen your heroes and are ready to decend into the dungeon, you must first understand and take care of the basics. Food and water are necessary for life. Ignore this rule and death will follow in short order. Each character has three main attributes that you must closely monitor: health, stamina, and mana. Health is the gauge of life. A naturally stong character will begin with a decent amount of health, while your puny weak spell casters will have very little in the way of health.

Stamina is how fatigued your character is; it’s a good idea to watch this one as well. Carrying too much equipment can really take a toll on a character. Keep in mind that a tired fighter won’t be very useful when push comes to shove. Mana is the measure of how much raw Magick power that your character can attempt to use. Some characters you find in the Hall of Champions have a natural affinity to Magick. They have a high amount of mana to practice with, while others have little or no mana. Various items can be found in the game to give your normally Manaless characters a chance at pulling off a spell.

Skill/System – Practice Makes Perfect

Most role playing games (RPGs) in those days had a very simple concept of level advancement. For every creature you defeated in combat you got a certain number of experience points, and once you reached a certain number of experience points you advanced to the next level. Dungeon Master takes this to another level, in a more real world approach. Instead of limiting your character to levels in a specific class, any character can gain experience in four different professions Fighter, Wizard, Priest and Ninja.

A character, therefore, can be a Neophyte Fighter (level one) and a Novice Wizard (level two) dependent all on how much use your character gets out of his innate talents, as certain characters are easier to advance in certain skills than others. Just about everything you do in the game has an effect on your levels. Taking a hit from a creature for instance actually gains you experience in the fighting . You end up practicing on low level magic torch spells to try to gain your main fighter some experience in the Magick arts, while you can save your Real Wizard for the heat of battle.

Real Time

Before I played this game, every Role Playing Game I had played before was your standard Turn Based Combat, where every character had to wait their turn and you as a player had every chance to sit there and think about what you wanted to do, much in the same way you do in Chess. With Dungeon Master everything changed. Suddenly time became a factor and you were racing against the clock.

Torches burn and eventually die out, and stay too long in the dungeon and your characters could starve to death or die of thirst. Not paying too close attention and a monster could come along and send you to an early grave. Battles now had to be planned out on the fly, more by instinct than anything else. Time is a constant factor and it isn’t on your side. Instead of getting one attack per round, you now get specific attacking techniques that take a different amount of time to recover from. You don’t get to sit and plan, you have to fight or die.

The Art of Weaponry

As in most games of this genre, the fighting men/women/creatures are an integral part of of your success, especially in the early stages when your spellcasters are weak. They have to be the strongest physically and be able to take the most damage. Dungeon Master takes place with the assumption that your four characters are placed in a two by two alignment. The two characters in the front are the only ones who can attack with short range weapons such as swords and clubs, so it is a good idea to keep your better fighters up front so as to protect your usually wimpy Wizards and Priests. The two fighting classes, Ninja and Fighter benefit from two different fighting styles. Each weapon you find in the depths of the dungeon has its own different kinds of attacks, that can benefit both classes, and each kind of attack takes a different amount of time to recover from, so it is imperative that you choose wisely.

Magick System – Mana and Symbols

Another great aspect of this classic game is its deceptively simple magic system that at first seems to be quite complex. Basically each spell consists of two to four symbols: a power symbol (how strong a spell is going to be, and consequently how much Mana the spell will require), an element symbol (fire, water, spirt, etc) and an action symbol (what you want done with the element.

Mana is the essence of Magick, and it is required for the spellcaster to unleash his or her spells. You can attempt as difficult a spell as you have Mana, but trying spells way above your skill level will most likely get you nothing but a “need more practice” message which in the heat of battle can be the difference between life and death. Finding the characters’ limits is important, as practicing spells along the threshold of success and failure gains you valuable experience in that particular dicipline. For instance, one of your main fighters can gain experience by attempting the lowest level magic torch spell and failing over and over. Eventually he will be able to cast it, and with more practice he will gain a much needed advance in a Wizard level and as an added bonus more Mana with which to practive even more spells.

While wizards are the flashy ones that do a lot of damage to the ranks of the enemy, just as important to life and death are the Priests. Their spells of healing and protection often make the difference between a gloomy death and victory at the bottom of the dungeon. The Magick system of Dungeon Master is one of its highlights. It keeps things simple without just having you select a spell from a drop down box, thus retaining a little of the fantasy of the Magick system.

Interface

What brings this whole game together is that, with all these complex elements, everything is brought together in a simple, easy to use, mouse driven interface. Keyboard input is not required at all in Dungeon Master. Everything can be done from two screens, the main view screen and your inventory screen.


A mummy approaches. This is the main game
interface screen.

In the Main view you have complete control over your environment. It’s up to you to click on buttons find secret doors and pick up the various items you find. As a nice touch, when you pick up an item the main cursor becomes that item until you put it down. The right quarter of the screen contains your action menus. Above, you have full access to the spell casting interface and the weaponry attack buttons. Learn these well as they are the key to survival in battle.


The inventory screen. You can easily
see what weapons the character is currently
using, and what they have in their pack.

Fun and Scary

Dungeon Master is one of those games that is meant to be played in the dark. Preferably in a basement and at night, so that all you can hear is the slight crackle of your torch as it burns and the hissing of the mummy that has snuck up behind you and attacked while you weren’t looking, or if you are unlucky the scream of your party as it falls through that trap door. While the game is challenging, it isn’t too difficult and even if you find it a little tough, feel free to load up the kiddie dungeon that comes with the game. Just hold down the “Option” key while pressing the “New Game” button at the opening screen.

Final Word

Dungeon Master from FTL games is a great game. It takes a simple to use interface and a great skills system and merges it with great magical items and some incredibly evil monsters for you to do battle with. If you are a gamer and even have the slightest interest in dungeon crawlers, then you need to find yourself a used copy. It’s quite worth the trouble. If you happen to come across a copy, check it out, it is well worth your time.

System Requirements

Rom 01 or Rom 3 Apple IIGS. – Rom 00s need not apply.
1 MB of memory.