Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Anybody else remember Telengard?


Telengard was a dungeon crawl computer game put out by Avalon Hill back in the early 80's. Like most such computer games of the era, it gleefully swiped D&D's mechanics.

Each level of Telengard had a teleporter device that would take you to another level of your choice. I spent hours sending first level adventurers down to level 50 in hopes of stumbling across some unguarded high-power magic items and teleporting back up to level 1. It rarely worked. Usually I'd find a level 50 wraith or someone that would kill my impertinent newbie PC.

Which brings me around to a simple premise: D&D was designed for dungeons. Sounds obvious, I know. But hear me out. D&D was not designed for ecologically-sound underground lairs. D&D was not designed for adventures with plots and stuff that happen to be set at least partially in subterranean labyrinths. You can do both those things with D&D, but the game is ideally designed for the big, sprawling megadungeon where Orcus lives on level 20 or whatever.

In a megadungeon the PCs can strategically gauge there risk based upon their own level and the levels of the dungeon. Say we're a pretty big and tough party of 10th level adventurers. Do we putz around on the upper levels of the dungeon, pimp-slapping kobolds til they cry and stealing their copper pieces? Everyone will come back alive, but the loot and xp haul will be low. Or do we go to level 10, where we can expect a "fair fight" and earns more rewards if we survive? Or do we spend some gold on extra scrolls of invisibility and silence and try to sneak into the lich-king's treasury on level 15? If we make it out with the liche king's crown jewels it will be worth the additional risk.

Now, the scenarios in the preceding paragraph assume a lot. Assumption one is that it is relatively easy to traverse from one level to the next. A good megadungeon should allow for lots of flow from one main level to another, with only certain sub-levels isolated. Also built into the scenarios is the assumption that the party doesn't just show up to the dungeon and wander willy-nilly. Superior dungeoneers reconnoiter. They map. They plan. They interrogate or charm monsters to get information. Certainly you can slop your way through a dungeon crawl if you want (and that can be lots of fun) but if you want to do a good job of plundering the dungeon you take planning and reconnaisance seriously. Under this approach some dungeon expeditions should be strictly scouting missions. Fighters should wear leather armor to increase chances of surprise and the party flees from most encounters. Finally the biggest assumption is that the DM is on his toes. Maybe he doesn't have the map and key to level 15 complete, but he knows enough to that he can have the ki-rin on level 8 tell the party that the lich-king's treasury is down there.

But if you can put that all together, dungeoneering won't simply be an endless series of mindless slogs. For example, say you've got a successful mid or high level party. You map of level 3 is incomplete, or maybe you just want to check for secret doors that might have been missed back near the beginning of the campaign. Sending a Wizard, a Lord, and a Patriarch to do that seems like overkill. But what about sending the henchmen? Those who have henchmen get an opportunity to score some xp for their sidekicks, while anyone who doesn't have henchies can start a back-up PC.

Now assume that things go bad for the little spuds and everyone's favorite henchmen end up captured by a wandering monster. Time for a rescue operation! A few sessions ago didn't we find a series of prisoner cells on level 7? Let's send the big guns down there and hope that's where the baddies took our sidekicks.

29 comments:

  1. Wowee! Telengard! I had so totally forgotten about that! Thanks for the blast from the past.

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  2. It seems like the "Granddaddy" of the type of dungeon crawl you describe is the Ruins of Undermountain. Can you recommend any similar adventures that are still available? I've always wanted to do a massive dungeon crawl with my group.

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  3. Man, I haven't played that in weeks :) Somewhere around here, I still have the box, given to me when I worked for Avalon Hill back in the day [creaky old-guy noises].

    Greenvesper, if we want to start calling any computer game a grandaddy, it may be worth remembering that when Telengard was new, Telengard wasn't new. It was adapted pretty directly from an earlier, simpler (ASCII) game called "DnD," which I also play every few weeks to this day ... DnD has multiple dungeons, only one of which was adapted to Telengard (it's a tradeoff; Telengard has some cute graphical humor and is slightly crueller, which can be a draw depending on your mood).

    A brief article:
    http://archive.gamespy.com/halloffame/march02/dnd/

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  4. Greenvesper - I've checked my copy of DnD and have confirmed that it's cool to distribute it (it's DOS shareware that I personally play in DOSBox, but a quick test also seems to confirm that it runs just fine in Windows XP without any modifications or troubles).

    So, if you want a copy (it's tiny), just drop me a line at sjohn@io.com and put "Telengard" in the subject line. My personal favorite dungeon is Lamorte, but try 'em all ;)

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  5. (Oh, and obviously, if we really want to peg grandaddies, we must not forget Rogue) ;)

    My own current Roguelike obsession is still POWDER, for the GameBoy Advance.

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  6. My whole family was into Telengard in the C-64 days. We had several cassettes with our characters littering the basement computer table.

    There's a Win port available, pretty faithful (seems a bit tougher than I remember, but everything's there: thrones, altars, halflings making quick moves):

    http://buildingworlds.com/telengard/

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  7. Ooh, also of interest at that site, kenhr, is the link to the designer's own notes about the game's history ... I never realized it went back to the 70s. Does it predate Rogue's development, I wonder?

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  8. Oh, and to your larger point:

    I started a megadungeon game as an exercise in "playing D&D the way its creators meant it to be played." Over the course of several sessions of play, I've come to realize that it's best to run it sandbox-style as you describe. I have power groups, treasure locations, etc., it's up to the players to make sense of it all. Continued play in such an environment gives rise to organic, player-initiated plots.

    I'm about to send another group into my dungeon. This will be really fun as they'll have arrived in the wake of the first group, and will see signs of previous passage.

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  9. I don't think Telengard pre-dates Rogue, but was at least influenced by it. I remember following the links from the designer page a long while back and sort of piecing together the history of the game. It was a fun glimpse into early computer gaming.

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  10. Anonymous1:51 PM

    Hmmm, looks a lot like the old Gateway to Apshai game too. Man that was fun.

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  11. Oh, I know Telengard doesn't predate Rogue ... I was talking about the predecessor game, DnD.

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  12. This sounds very roguelike to my ears....

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  13. johnh, it kinda-sorta is, though there are a few notable (and very signifigant) differences in actual gameplay.

    The main things DnD and Rogue have in common:

    (A) They're both about a lone character delving deep into a multi-level maze.
    (B) They're both graphics-free, relying on letters, numbers, punctuation (and, in Rogue's case, ascii frame-bars) to present the dungeon.
    (C) They both use similar Dungeons & Dragons-derived elements like hit points.

    But after that, there are a lot of differences, ranging from the major (the maps in DnD are learnable and are even provided as files for printing, while maps in Rogue are randomly generated every time you play) to the subtle (Rogue has lots of management details like hunger and unidentified objects, which aren't the core gameplay but which flavor it strongly) to the stylistic (DnD revels - positively revels - in "Take Your Chances" objects like the altars).

    And most of the above which is true of DnD is also true of its graphical descendant, Telengard.

    So, it's not so much a roguelike as a rogueishlike-esque :)

    If indeed it isn't the other way around. Still not sure about that.

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  14. ... and after having pored over the histories of both games, it definitely seems that DnD predates Rogue by abour 4 years give or take, which is interesting. I never knew or suspected that.

    Given that they both nick the basic premise from Dungeons & Dragons, and their wide stylistic differences (both games could, frankly, learn a few things from the other, but apparently didn't) its entirely possible that neither game influenced the other at all ...

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  15. I'd be remiss not to rep /traditional games/ and mention the roguelike
    Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup on sourceforge (=free). It even has mac binaries.

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  16. Matt H8:40 AM

    "The mummy just stole your +50 armor."

    Damn you, Telengard!

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  17. Linley's Dungeon Crawl is awesome...I never found Stone Soup until a few months later; how much of an improvement is it?

    And sorry for misunderstanding the lineage question, s.john....

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  18. Not your fault, I was being super-unclear since it was a Telengard article (that also covers DnD since they're by the same dude).

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  19. Sorry s. john. I was referring to the later part of the post talking about how D&D was made for dungeons. I wasn't referring to Telengard specifically. Thanks for the software offer though!

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  20. Longish response (not about roguelikes) here.

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  21. szilard - in response to your response: In my experience the problems/contradictions you're addressing don't exist in gameplay, because the realities of the dungeon-fantasy genre are their own consistent set of conventions, which the players embrace knowingly, celebrate, and build on (and, certainly, there's no shortage of clear prior examples to provide everyone with a stable platform on which to rest their expectations).

    Therefore, thorough investigation of the dungeon is an exploration of those realities, not a deconstruction of them (unless the game is meant to be a genre deconstruction, but once again, if that's the case, it's on purpose so there's no problem). It's a simple (and, in practice, often a very beautiful) example of fine gamesmanship and skilled genre participation.

    The only time you'll run into a problem is if you've got a player who rejects the genre but isn't honest about it with the group (maybe because he'd rather be playing in another type of campaign, or maybe because that type of willing suspension makes him feel self-conscious, etc), but that's a social matter that the group can mend with social means.

    That's in my own experience, anyway. Your mileage with your own group may, as they say, vary.

    For my own part, I disagree mildly with some of the details of Jeff's assertion, but I agree with the broad strokes.

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  22. s. john,

    This slippery slope is something that I suspect occurs across multiple games rather than in a single game.

    Game 1: Players investigate. GM makes stuff up for them to find.

    Game 2: GM makes up stuff ahead of time for players to find. Players ask questions/do things GM didn't anticipate.

    Game 3: GM tries to create more coherent setting so that making stuff up will be easier...

    Does that make sense?

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  23. It makes perfect sense, and I think it's the way most games go.

    I suppose the main difference in our experiences is that, in my experience, what you're describing is the upward spiral of opportunity that enriches the campaign and makes it more about everybody involved ... the impression I get is that your experiences have been more negative than that. I really think that's the only differences in our perspective, because I don't disagree with any of your actual observations, only the conclusions/concerns drawn from them.

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  24. Ah. I wasn't meaning to be judgmental.

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  25. I don't believe you were, not at all.

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  26. Anonymous10:49 PM

    So where can i get a fully functional copy of this game or the emulator?

    I have a copy that works but it doesnt have the 50 levels i once rememberd in telengard.

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  27. Anonymous6:56 PM

    Anyone know where you can find a downloadable map? I used to have a huge chunk of the 2,000,000 rooms mapped out eons ago, but then I got old and threw them out. *cringe* email me at marianmurdoch at yahoo.com if you know where I can find one!

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  28. Anonymous7:36 AM

    anybody know where I can find a free download of telengard?

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  29. I have a link on my website dungeonquests.com that has the link to download telengard.

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