Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Combat in the 1980 Deadly Dungeon

In our last post we got an overview of Don and Freda Boner’s “Deadly Dungeon.”  Let’s take a look at the combat system of this old game.  If you play it, you may want to turn it off, in which case a general knowledge of the code will help you.  I’m more interested in the overall design, myself.  Here’s a partial listing:


In each round of combat, you are presented with two choices: you can attack with your sword or shoot arrows.  Your character has a combat rating and the computer also tracks how many arrows you have.  Monsters have a combat rating, but no arrows.

If your combat rating is less than or equal than the monster’s and you elected to sword fight, you go directly to a the routine pictured above, “SwordFight_Disadvantaged”:  You have a one in five chance of killing the monster outright.  Otherwise you are told that you wounded the monster.  This leads to a one in five chance of you being killed outright.  If you survive, “Blood is everywhere!” and you have only a one in three chance killing the monster.  Otherwise, you are dead.

If your combat rating is greater than the monster’s and you elected to sword fight, you go directly to the SwordFight_Advantaged routine.  Here you have a one in ten chance of being killed outright by the monster.  If you survive that you have a one in four chance of killing the monster by cutting it in half.  If you fail that, you have a one in seven chance of having to repeat the SwordFight_Advantaged routine from the start.  Otherwise, you kill him!

Bear in mind that these routines have short waits interspersed with the text in order increase the suspense.  (Oh, baby!)

Finally, if you elected to fight with your bow, you go to the ShootArrows routine.  If you have no arrows, then you are killed outright.  You have a one in twelve chance of being killed, a one in twelve chance of killing it, and a ten in twelve chance on wounding it and therefore having to continue fighting.  If don’t have the arrows to continue shooting, then you’re dead.  Otherwise you fire again with basically a four in nine chance of killing the monster.  If you missed, then you have to start this whole routine over.

If my math is right, you have only a 31 in 75 chance of surviving the SwordFight_Disadvantaged routine.  Given that, you probably want to save your arrows for the tough ones….  But remember that running out of arrows in a fight is instant death, so you don’t want to use them unless you have at least 6 or 8 on hand!

Kind of anti-climatic, isn’t it?  I do give them points for coming up with an unusual system; combat does produce a range of colorful text descriptions even though you don’t have much choice in how things play out.

Does combat even belong in a text adventure?  It sure didn’t do much for Zork I or Zork III.  As far as “Deadly Dungeon” goes, it has mostly been an impediment to me actually playing it.  If I actually attempt to solve it, I’ll most likely disable it.  I may not have to, now that I know how it works… but really… what does it add to the game?

This is disappointing given the percentage of the game’s code that is dedicated to combat resolution.  Things haven’t changed for the combat-laden text adventure in the 25 the years since then: even in the hand of interactive fiction Grandmaster Graham Nelson with his The Reliques of Tolti-Aph the concept is practically unplayable.  A flabberghasted David Whyld asks, “did he actually think this kind of thing was what people wanted to play?”

Is there a solution to the problem of integrating a combat system into a text adventure game?  Dan Shiovitz says, “the solution is, don’t use random combat and skill checks because they’re dumb.”  What do you think?  Can you come up with a premise for adding combat to a text adventure game that actually makes it more fun?  Even better… can you do it in a 16K basic program on the TRS-80?  It wouldn’t be sporting if we didn’t level the playing field with the Boners, after all!


One response to “Combat in the 1980 Deadly Dungeon

  1. Pingback: Emily Short Comments on Fun Game Design « Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog

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