Akalabeth Playthrough, Part 2: The Lizard Man Cometh

My first dalliance into the dungeons of Akalabeth is... interesting. A quick survey of my surroundings reveals a ladder, some hallways, and some doors. The full 3D perspective is pretty cool, even with the crude vector graphics, but there is one thing about Garriott's dungeons that drives me batty. Every door in the dungeon is its own space, equivalent to a space in the hallway, so when I think I'm stepping through a doorway, I'm actually stepping into it. In the graphic below, I have just stepped into a doorway leading into a square room. From my perspective in the doorway, it looks rectangular because the game gives the player no visual indication that they are in a doorway. This causes me all manner of confusion, especially when mapping (unfortunately, the weird doorways will still be there in Ultima).

A square room.

After a little bit of exploring, I have my first monster encounter. It is the thief, a pesky rascal that periodically snags a random piece of equipment from me. He’s not difficult to kill, but it takes long enough to finish him that he is able to steal my only weapon (an axe) and food from me. Unfortunately, I didn't recover my equipment after the battle.  I don't know where it goes... maybe he eats it. He does look a bit like a Mad Magazine spy that has really let himself go.

A gluttonous thief.

Now unarmed, I figured I should head back to the town to buy another axe before returning to the dungeon. I do so, and when I return to the dungeon, I follow the same route I had followed before and, strangely enough, encounter a thief in the same location. And he again takes my axe. Okay, bad luck, I guess. Back to the town, and the dungeon again... and again my axe is stolen! By now I’m getting the urge to kidnap a groundhog, but rather than bemoan the failure of the program to properly generate randomness, I decide to try going down a level, unarmed as I may be.

On the second level of the dungeon, I encounter an orc. He is rather ordinary, as monsters go, but formidable enough to give my unarmed hero trouble. I manage to kill him, but just as I’m finishing him off, I get attacked by another monster coming at me from a different direction. Unfortunately, despite turning around several times, I’m unable to locate the monster attacking me and I die in short order.

It seems that Akalabeth’s reputation as demo-like is fairly accurate. I continued playing the game for a while, trying to delve deeper into the dungeon and get a feel for the late-game mechanics. The upper levels of the dungeons were populated by the thief, giant rat, skeleton, viper, and orc. Only the thief has a special ability, so these threats were manageable.

From left to right, a thief, giant rat, skeleton, viper, and orc.

On the lower levels of the dungeon, I started to encounter the monsters that Lord British has grievances with. They are the balron, gremlin, mimic, daemon, and carrion crawler. Of these, the only one with a special ability is the gremlin, but that ability is very special indeed. It can steal half your food in a turn, and can do so an unlimited number of times in battle. This is incredibly nasty. Data Driven Gamer estimated that a typical player would need about 1,300 food to defeat a single gremlin and still have enough left to escape the dungeon and reach the nearest town. And you better hope you don't encounter another one on the way back. Using the same assumptions, you would need to start with over 80,000 food to defeat two such creatures!  This, combined with the fact that the game has no mechanism for level-building, makes defeating all of these monsters a nearly impossible task.

From left to right, a balron, gremlin, mimic, daemon, and carrion crawler.

Needless to say, I was unable to finish Akalabeth, at least not... fairly. There's an item in the game called the magic amulet that can only be properly controlled by a character of the mage class. It allows you to cast four different spells, one of which is a transform spell that either turns you into a lizard man, which raises all of your stats substantially, or a toad, which makes you about as powerful as... well, a toad. The outcome is random, so playing fairly with one life to live, this would be a silly gamble to make. But playing unfairly (i.e., savescumming), you can stack lizard man transformations to become an unstoppable fighting force.  And that's exactly what I did.

Dungeon, meet thy doom!