Friday, March 15, 2013

Flashback Friday: The Apshai Trilogy

And now for something completely different.

Behold the wonder of 1970s video game cover art!
So far I've been posting about tabletop rpgs, but now I want to talk about a computer game because it actually contributed to my AD&D games. The game was later known collectively as the "Apshai Trilogy", but originally it was just one game and then two later expansions. They were made by Epyx, who put out a number of other pretty cool games in the 80s, including a star ranger/powered armor type game and a fantasy strategy game that riffed off the Battle of the Five Armies from The Hobbit. I played Apshai and those games on one of several Ataris and eventually a Commodore/Amiga/etc.

The gameplay was nothing revolutionary. You had a character with attributes and hit points and gold, and you moved around dungeons fighting monsters to get more gold and magic items and whatnot. It may have been ROGUE-like, but I never had any experience with ROGUE. I think the closest I've ever come to ROGUE was playing Telengard on one of our first IBM-clones.

Graphically, it was on par for its time - it looked a lot like ASCII art, but since the Atari was connected to something like a 13" TV (for a time, it might even have been a black and white TV) it didn't really matter. Epyx had a clever technique to make up for the lack of HD graphics - each game came with a little booklet that contained text descriptions of the various rooms. When you entered a room, there was a room number you could look up in the booklet. Add in the fact that you could precisely measure each room and map the dungeon, and we get to how this nifty little game contributed to my early tabletop rpg experience.

Behold the wonder of 1980s graphics!

Armed with graph paper (I bought it so regularly the people at the stationery store down the street knew to set aside a few pads of it if they saw me coming) I mapped every ten foot square of the dungeons in each of those three games. I then was able to take my Monster Manual and find matches for every monster encountered in the game. Then it was just a matter of using the maps with game booklets and I had some pretty well laid out dungeons with very little effort. At some point, I even managed to type all of the room descriptions in to a word processor so I could remix them into completely new dungeons.

The beautiful thing about it was that they were dungeons (or Dunjons) that nobody had played through before. Because of limited funds, at that time we had recycled modules two or three times. For populat modules, it was hard to find people who hadn't played through them. Everyone was excited when I unveiled a brand new homebrew dungeon. When the Monster Manual II came out, the Thri-Kreen became the race I used for the ant-men and it turned into a whole campaign centered around Apshai, the Thri-Kreen and maps of temples I copied from the appendix in a KJV Bible (much to my mother's disapproval).

It's probably worth noting that the Apshai Trilogy was my first ever foray into but screwing around with code. The games were written in BASIC, and there weren't any such things as compilers or encryption back then. Think about it like editing config files for a PC game. I could give myself virtually unlimited hit points, or gold, reveal all of the secret doors, make myself whatever level, or make my weapon do some insane amount of damage. The novelty wore off pretty quick but it was helpful in mapping out the dungeons.

Now what I want to do is grab the room descriptions, track down some maps of the dungeons, and hack together a Fate Accelerated Edition game mimicking a Basic D&D sandbox type of dungeoncrawl. Use approaches for the character classes, stunts for racial abilities, magic and class abilities, and go to town on giant rats, spiders, scorpions, the occasional jackal, mummies and (of course) ant-men. I'd probably read the fluff straight from the book, too.