Eamon: Beginner’s Cave (1979)   Leave a comment

Retro enthusiasts who follow this blog may be wondering why the only home computer featured so far is the TRS-80. I apologize; I did try with Lords of Karma to use a Commodore PET or Apple II version but neither was cooperating. Now, finally, we have our first game designed specifically for Apple II.

I prefer the title screen in monochrome to the color version.

I prefer the title screen in monochrome to the color version.

Donald Brown’s achievement with Eamon really is remarkable. He created essentially an “RPG campaign system” which lets you make a character that can then play in multiple adventures. I’ve occasionally heard talk in the interactive fiction community of a “shared universe of objects” that allows porting things between games, but it never really materialized; here it was done in 1979. (Definitely 1979 even though it’s been reported differently elsewhere; Jimmy Maher has a blog post about the issue.)

Failing at character creation can be deadly.

Failing at character creation can be deadly.

The game starts with you specifying a name (which corresponds to a saved character), choosing male or female, and then being handed a randomly-chosen set of statistics.

Character creation can be deadly even when you do follow directions.

Character creation can be deadly even when you do follow directions.

This is followed by a long set of instructions, which I’ll summarize: There are five weapons classes (clubs/mace, spear, axe, sword, bow) which I’ve just listed in order from easiest to use to hardest, although I gather swords cause more damage than maces and so forth. Armor (leather, chain, plate) makes it harder to be hit but also makes it harder to hit others, and shields are usable when not wielding a two-handed weapon.

You can carry weight up to 10 times your hardiness; your hardiness also serves as your “hit points” although the amount of damage felt is conveyed in text (“YOU DON’T FEEL VERY WELL”) as opposed to numbers. Agility affects your ability to hit monsters. Charisma affects the prices in shops and the friendliness of monsters (more on the latter point later).

There are some magic spells, although as far as I can tell stats don’t affect their use (other than them having effects *to* stats).

instruct6b

I mentioned a “shared universe of objects”; as noted in the screenshot above, it isn’t complete (one author can’t create a magical object which then affects other games) the persistence of money, weapons, and armor is non-trivial and makes the general experience of Eamon feel more like a modular set of stories rather than many distinct ones. (I should add many later Eamon games do end up customizing enough to be stand-alone; there was even an Eamon game in IFComp 2010.)

In any case, after choosing to embark an adventure the player is prompted to swap disks; without swapping disks, they are sent to the “Beginner’s Cave”. The game is emphatic about the “beginner” moniker — if your character is too experienced they won’t be allowed in.

instruct7

The map is fairly straightforward but does have the feel of a room-by-room Dungeons & Dragons crawl.

The “charisma” statistic plays a big part in what happens. There is a “hermit” and a warrior named Heinrich, both which can be peaceful and follow you around. (There’s random chance going on here, so even with a higher charisma stat it is possible one or the other may not be friendly.) They will then fight with you in combats with monsters, which helps enormously with the chance of survival.

map3

There’s a chest which is really a mimic, a bunch of rats, and a pirate with a sword with a magical flame (that will activate for you with the word TROLLSFIRE). The combat system does make the world does seem a bit dynamic; enemies can run away from you multiple times, causing monsters in one room to end up in another. One time I chased the rats into the room with the hermit. I hadn’t befriended the hermit yet but fortunately he turned out to be on my side and started killing the rats.

“Critical hits” and “critical misses” are in; you can fumble and drop a weapon in the middle of a fight, or kill an enemy instantly with a single blow. (The downside is the same can happen to you; once the pirate killed me in a single blow when I had full health.)

There are magic items, but fortune and death are dealt in equal numbers: There’s a bottle, which when drunk, will heal wounds. There’s a book, which when read, will automatically kill you.

The ostensible “goal” is to gather as much gold and items as possible and then leave once satisfied. However, there’s a secret door (which is revealed by hanging out in a room and LOOKing, just like Lords of Karma) which leads to a priest and a stereotype.

priest

Once the battle against the priest is won, Cynthia will follow you around; rather notably for a videogame escort mission, if getting into combat she will run away to safety rather than get herself killed.

Since the game is essentially goalless, you can leave whenever you like:

sun

sun2

Even though Eamon games seems to classify more as “RPG” than “Adventure”, it feels like their popularity at the time is not proportional to historical memory. There are at least 255 Eamon games. Donald Brown clearly provoked some sort of affection for his creation which lasted a long time.

This cover is from a dodgy plagiarized version with the author name stripped out. You can read more details at The Eamon Adventurer's Guild.

This cover is from a dodgy plagiarized version with the author name stripped out. You can read more details at The Eamon Adventurer’s Guild.

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Posted September 1, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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