Snarf it!

James at Grognardia recently posted something about the Atari Adventure game, and it was my first intersection of D&D & video games too. Year later when I had a Commodore 64, I discovered all sorts of great early CRPGs, but the first and in some ways dearest to me is Telengard.

Telengard (link is to author’s site) was very simple but also quite elegant. Each character you generated would explore a 50-level dungeon that was filled with a variety of monsters, tricks, and traps. The monsters were very clearly based on D&D and Tolkien (kobolds, gnolls, orcs, trolls, balrog-like demons, skeletons, wraiths, vampires, ghosts, zombies, minotaurs, elfs, dwarfs, mummies, fighters, at the top of the food chain, dragons). Each monster could be of any level, so a 1oth level orc is actually tougher than a first level demon (I don’t know if there was a maximum level, although as you go deeper and deeper they attained higher levels, and even the first level of the dungeon could have 5th or 6th level monsters).

The tricks and traps ranged from teleporters (which might send you to a deeper level) and pits, to various items like fountains, thrones, and altars which could have random effects, to boxes covered with buttons, which if pressed in the right order, could have various effects. It is a good reminder of how important tricks, traps, and levers to pull are in a dungeon.

The goal was just to collect experience points by defeating monsters and bringing treasure to the surface (there were a number of “inns” with randomly determined names accessible from the first level where you deposited gold and healed up).

The manual listed all the spells and monsters but only gave descriptions ofthe first two levels of spells, so you’d have to try out the higher level spells when you could cast them. The monsters were given short, often comical descriptions, and odd but compelling drawings (no artist is credited, as far as I can tell). If the grind of mapping and collecting treasure got too boring, there were suggested metagames to challenge yourself or your friends (how deep can you go in 30 minutes? How high a level can you get your to in an hour? Who can kill the highest-level monster in 30 minutes? etc.) It is a little hard to imagine players sitting around waiting their turn for that long, but that is actually how we played. Heck, it took a good 10 or 15 minutes to load from cassette! (This was the first and probably only game I ever “hacked,” figuring out how to transfer the cassette game to disk when we got a disk drive much later, including making the necessary changes to the BASIC program to tell the C64 to load from disk (load”*”,8,1) rather than tape (load”*”,1,1,).

My brother and I did not really “compete” but we did enjoy following each other’s trials and tribulations.

Anyway before moving on, a bit about the Telengard dungeon.  Telengard was programed for computers with 64k or less memory (there were non-Commodore versions).  It did not access the tape or disk after loading, so everything for the game had to reside in that 64k.  Now let me repeat the dungeon was 50 levels deep.  And these levels each occupied a 200×200 grid.  And the dungeon map never changed (although the monsters appeared randomly).  So somehow the programmed came up with an algorithm that placed precisely the same walls, doors, empty spaces, altars, thrones, teleporters, pits, grey misty cubes, button boxes, stairs, and fountains at the same spots on every level.  That’s 2 million features (the advertising called it “2 million rooms”).  Obviously the game designer himself could not possibly know what the exact layout of the dungeon would be, only that, say, thrones are more  common on level 20 and alters on level 21, or something like that. Now that is a megadungeon! (in at least one sense of the word, anyway).

Jeff Rients posted two rather good blog entries riffing on Telengard and dungeon crawling in general, check them out. (Jeff’s Gameblog has a lot going for it — the Erol Otus art, the famous post on Gary Gygax’s passing, and a “Tale from the dorkside,” a phrase that I shamelessly stole for my post on LARPing. (I have many more tales of dorkery I’ll have to post someday).

Over at Carter’s Cartopia, a land in his campaign world is named after Telengard. I copped Telengard as the name of my Illusionist’s land of origin in the C&C campaign.

A Windows-based version is available here (although some malware has been spotted on other pages of this domain; be careful!), which is pretty much exactly the game play I had on the C64. A more graphics-intensive remake is here but I haven’t tried it out.

Oh, the title of this post? When you pick something up in Telengard, the program responds “Snarfed it.” The game had an odd sense of humor. Some monsters “Like your body” and give you magic items, if your Charisma is high enough, and almost any monster might “Make a quick move” and just steal something.

Published in: on February 19, 2010 at 1:48 am  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] word: Telengard. Mr. Monaco gets a free […]

  2. Thanks for the great post! You’ve inspired me, and now I’m going to be doing a review on Angband.

  3. Know this is a year old post, but was wondering if you knew where I could get the Windows remake you mentioned. THe website only loads partially before my AV and IE kill it, and there is no download link on the part that loads.

    Would REALLY like to get a non-emulator version of this and google-search has not been my friend.

    • I’ll see what I can find. I think I have an old copy downloaded onto a disk somewhere.

      • I think, though, that I did DL my copy from without incident, although it is now flagged as a possibly infected site.

        • is not raising any flags for me but it is a remake with considerably “improved” graphics and I have not actually tried it.

          • And there is a link at the site of the (late) author of Telengard, which is is for the IBM-PC but you could get a DOS emulator…

  4. You mention a graphic intensive remake but the link seems to be dead. Know if it can be found anywhere else? The one that is suppose to be here:

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