Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Enchanter (1983)

This week, we're playing through Infocom's classic Enchanter (1983), a ZORK spin-off of sorts written by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling.  Running across this one in the pages of an old Infocom catalog made me yearn to explore its magic-strewn fantasy world again; it's been long enough since I played it the first time that I don't seem to recall many of the solutions.  We'll be playing Version 29 here, using the WinFrotz Z-machine interpreter for Windows.

Enchanter is a more story-driven experience than the ZORK treasure hunts, though it's set in the same universe and there are definite similarities in literary style and puzzle design.  The stage is set in dramatic fashion -- the warlock Krill threatens the land, and the Circle of Enchanters heeds ancient advice under the leadership of wise Belboz.  They will send a novice Enchanter, the player, into Krill's stronghold on a reconnaissance mission, to avoid revealing the full power of the Circle too soon. 

As always, I encourage interested adventurers to tackle Enchanter firsthand before proceeding below.  The game's prose is extremely well-written; while I will spoil the plot here, and quote from the text a fair amount, the game is worth experiencing directly just for the quality of its descriptive text.  Infocom set a high bar for interactive fiction, and while the arrival of graphics made the text adventure commercially unviable and the form has continued to mature on an amateur enthusiast basis, the company's best products still hold up well.  Beyond this point, you may not be eaten by a grue, but you are likely to encounter...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

As the game begins, we find ourselves at a fork in the road.  The map in this area seems intentionally designed to confuse, but I think it's just an attempt to represent an outdoor, unplanned environment, with lots of angled navigation.  We can meet an old crone in the otherwise deserted village, who begrudgingly gives us a scroll containing the rezrov spell, which can open things.  (Her hovel is described as "a place of great disorder.")  We can acquire some basic provisions in decrepit buildings outside the town -- a loaf of bread in a disused oven, a jug, and -- as almost always -- a lantern.

A sign along the western road reads simply, "Why."  As we go further west, we find more signs; the next in the series reads, "are."  If we succumb to curiosity and continue, we eventually discover the entire phrase:  "Why are you going west when the castle is east?  Burma Shave."  After that comic coda, the signs become too worn to be read, and we really ought to head back east.  The "road" is not just a repeating room, or at least it uses a counter of some kind; we have go all the way back east after sating our curiosity, at which point we are likely to be too thirsty to survive for long.  So it's best to make our way to the ruins of the Old Lingolf House in the northeast and drink from the brook.

We have to sleep on occasion, and our sleep is almost always disturbed by dreams providing visions and hints of the future.  The first involves wandering through the dark, and seeing murky faces, except for one bright one -- when we touch it, we wake.  Hmmmm.

From the top of Lonely Mountain at the center of the initial map, we can see Krill's castle looming ominously in the distance.  It has three turrets, two smaller ones flanking a third cold, black tower that spews black mist over the surroundings.

The magic system follows the classic pencil-and-paper RPG format.  We will need to transfer any new spells into our trusty spell book to make them reusable, and must memorize any spell before we can use it; there are other spells which are too complex to be transferred and can thus only be used once, reading from the original source.  The crone's rezrov spell must be copied with GNUSTO REZROV; checking our spell book gives us specific descriptions of each spell in our arsenal, and this one officially will "open even locked or enchanted objects."  We also have blorb, which protects a small object; nitfol, to converse with animals; and frotz, which causes something to give off light (and serves as the namesake for the modern Frotz interpreter, which, appropriately, has kept the Infocom flame alive on many new platforms.)  We might as well take the opportunity to FROTZ LANTERN, since it's broken but can magically be imbued with light, and then re-LEARN FROTZ in case we need it again.

With our provisions gathered, it is time to venture into the evil castle -- REZROV GATE does the job.  (Although there's a slight bug here -- if we try to OPEN GATE after magically opening it, we are still told that The gate is secure; it cannot be unlocked.)  We feel our mind being probed, then dismissed, it seems, as we enter the gate.

A closet south of the courtyard holds a large, jewelled box, wrapped in tight coils of thin rope.  If we were the hero of ZORK, we could probably cut this Gordian knot, but as a novice Enchanter REZROV seems like the right choice.... except that The magic in the rope is strong enough to prevent the rezrov spell from working.  Hmmmm.  These spells may not be as all-purpose as they appear.

The northwestern tower contains a Jewel Room.  Most of the beautiful chests and cabinets are empty now, but there's an ornamented egg here.  It appears to be a puzzle box, festooned with a handle, a knob, a slide, a crank and a button.  Fortunately, we needn't solve anything too complicate; REZROV EGG works.  But the scroll inside is shredded, damaged beyond readability.  So maybe we don't want to open it, even magically.  We'll just take it along instead, after a restore, and hope we find some means of reading it without opening the egg.  (Veterans may note that this is reminiscent of the egg puzzle in ZORK I.)

A Hall of Mirrors on the north side of the castle looks out onto an underground labyrinth.  A bedraggled adventurer appears, carrying a dim lantern and an elvish sword, glowing dimly.  He appears to be the ZORK I hero.

A Guarded Door at the northeast tower sports a five-headed, razor-tongued beast, flame-spewing gargoyles and groping tentacles, as well as a sign reading, "Don't Bother."  It flashes briefly "Fat Chance" if we try to REZROV it.

The library contains the ashes of hundreds of empty scroll tubes and books, but there is one old and dusty book left intact.  We can read the table of contents, or part of it -- what remains of the book contains The Legend of the Unseen Terror and The Legend of the Great Implementers.  We also hear some low, guttural voices coming nearer from the south, so we'd best be careful here.  We can leave in the opposite direction, and they don't pursue us, at least for the moment.

The southwest tower contains a bedroom; if we sleep on the soft bed, we have a vision of a beautiful, noble damsel holding a scroll in one hand; she gets into bed and turns out the light, and we note that she no longer has the scroll.  Then we wake up.  So is the scroll hidden in the bed somewhere?  LOOK UNDER THE BED yields nothing, but SHAKE THE BED causes one of the bedposts to rattle as though something is inside it.  REZROV BEDPOST reveals the scroll, which contains the vaxum spell -- "make a hostile creature your friend."  That may come in handy, so we should GNUSTO VAXUM to keep it.

There's a Gallery along the southern wall of the castle, displaying portraits of famous Zorkians like Lord Dimwit Flathead and the Wizard of Frobozz, tying this game firmly into the same universe.

In the southeast tower, we hear loud crashing and screeching from above.  This leads to the Engine Room, where a machine of no apparent purpose makes a ton of noise.  We can see a room to the southeast that may contain a scroll, but getting there is a challenge.  We can make a dash for the Control Room, but the machinery speeds up after we get there.  The scroll is old and brittle and contains the complex kulcad spell, which can be used to "dispel a magic spell."  But our feeble GNUSTO powers fail to copy the spell into our book; at least the failed attempt allows the scroll to remain intact.  Trying to get back out of the control room results in death by machinery plus spears, so we'll have to solve some puzzles here if we hope to add this spell to our inventory.

There's a dungeon below ground, where we can find another scroll containing the exex spell, which makes things move with greater speed.  It's found in a passage behind a square block chipped away by former inmates of the dungeon, apparently trying to tunnel out.  The tunnel is unfinished, but we can pick up a worn silver spoon somebody discarded as a poor tool for the task.

Below the dungeon is the Translucent Room maze, a peculiar room, whose cream-colored walls are thin and translucent.  Mapwise it seems to be the same room, but the exits change in a consistent fashion; it's not a tricky or deceptive maze, we just have to map it carefully.  But there doesn't seem to be any point to it -- it doesn't appear to lead anywhere new.

We can exit the castle to the south to find a rocky beach along a grey and lifeless sea.  An enormous turtle is here, his enameled shell shining with all the colors of the rainbow.  We can NITFOL TURTLE to converse with the creature.  He asks, "How do you like my shell?  A wizard did that to me about 75 years ago,"  and wonders aloud if we are going to something about that annoying warlock.  He responds to TURTLE, FOLLOW ME.  He'll even go up the stairs into the towers, though he complains, "Pretty steep stairs for a turtle, friend. But if you say so..."  We will probably find some purpose for him eventually.  We can also FILL JUG on the beach, but now it is full of undrinkable seawater, so let's not do that.

Entering the Temple at the center of the castle courtyard is dangerous; a horde of hunched and hairy creatures plan to sacrifice us, and they throw us into a Cell in the north tower, with none of our possessions.  We only survive for a few more turns.  This also happens if we enter the junction near the temple; we can't navigate out of it without getting captured.  Casting the EXEX spell on ourselves doesn't seem to help in terms of escaping their clutches... though maybe that would help with the Engine Room?  No -- the additional speed helps, but the spear trap still fires off, and the flying blades are too fast to dodge even with magical assistance.  So we may need a shield of some kind too.  BLORB ME doesn't help, though it's a rather entertaining way to go as we are fatally squished into what feels like a black hole.

Death is not permanent in Enchanter; the Circle of Enchanters are frustrated and disappointed, but the player is revived and returned to the area near the castle with some basic supplies put within easy reach; it's not a foolproof mechanism, though, and undoes no permanent mistakes we've made, so it's still best to SAVE early and often.

The castle's kitchen has been recently used, with a warm, empty oven and bloody knives, but I never found anything to do there.

Having the turtle in our company does not help us with the hairy creatures, and the turtle himself complains about having to follow us around so long.  I wasn't really sure what to do with him; EXEX TURTLE doesn't noticeably speed him up, and this particular Infocom effort does not allow us to ASK TURTLE ABOUT anything... oh, wait!  We can see that now he is moving with terrific speed, it's just that he doesn't notice the difference.  This seems useful, but we can't RIDE or CLIMB TURTLE -- The turtle doesn't allow you to get on his back.  We can direct the turtle to go places, but we're still the target for sacrifice if the creatures are alerted.  Interesting but not yet productive.

On the north side of the castle is a rusted gate; we can REZROV it to access a grey, lifeless forest.  Here we find a scroll containing the krebf spell: repair willful damage.  A swamp to the east is filled with the sound of frogs.  We can NITFOL FROG -- our random target doesn't have much to say, just "Breep! Hiya! Seen any juicy flies? Breep!"  But the chorus of other frogs tells us, "Look under the lily pad. Breep!"  Following suit, we find a scroll with the cleesh spell: change a creature into a small amphibian.  Hmmmmm.  The frogs discuss the Interlogic prose adventures (as Infocom's creations were known early on) and what they would do if they were princes again.  CLEESH FROG makes no visible change, and we can't UNCLEESH FROG or anything.

Now that we are considerably more armed with spells, can we do anything with the Guarded Door?  We can't turn the monsters into small amphibians, and the other spells don't seem to work either.  Can we get the scroll out of the egg?  Breaking it also shreds the scroll.  Maybe we can open it and then KREBF the scroll, assuming the egg's design counts as inflicting "willful damage."  Aha!  The restored scroll contains the ZIFMIA spell -- magically summon a being.  But we have to be able to see the creature in question.

We have ten spells now.  Reading the dusty book found in the library in more detail, we learn how ancient enchanters lured the Unseen Terror to the location of a magical scroll, then sealed it in the living rock; and that the Great Implementers created worlds filled with puzzles for others of their kind.  Both are considered fanciful stories, though only one is strictly for entertainment value here.

We can ZIFMIA ADVENTURER in the Hall of Mirrors and bring him into our world.  He wanders around the map, and we can follow and observe as he plays the part of the beleagured adventure gamer to hilarious effect; occasionally, The adventurer stares at his possessions as if expecting a revelation or pulls out his map, a convoluted collection of lines, arrows, and boxes.   We can CLEESH him, but he doesn't seem to leave his sword behind, and he's not at all interested in the Guarded Door.

In the control room, we can KULCAD CONTROLS to use the kulcad scroll once, even though we can't GNUSTO it into our spell book.  This cause most of the controls to vanish, but there's a glowing button left over?  No, BUTTON is just what the parser interprets CONTROLS to be.  The button is apparently real, anyway.  Maybe this is a clue (along with the adventurer's behavior) that the Guarded Door is an illusion? Apparently not -- the fire and tentacles are real enough; we can open the door, and 19 demons emerge, knock us senseless, and return.  Belboz shows up whenever we use KULCAD, to admonish us that we are attracting attention with this powerful spell; this may be a hint that we should use it with great care, a lesson I failed to comprehend and heed.

It seems like we need to get the kulcad scroll out of the Engine Room area, and see if we can use it on the Guarded Door.  CLEESH ME is a bad idea, as we get distracted by more newtly concerns and lose control of our participation in the story, bringing it to a close.  We can EXEX HAMMER in the Machine Room, and its thudding blows seem to become more frequent, but we can't speed it up enough to burn out the machinery or shut down the spear trap. 

So... I've never been above seeking a hint in times of distress.  The classic Infocom Invisiclues approach works well, as it doesn't give away too much too soon.  We can't do anything with the controls, as I suspected, but another clue suggests that someone or something else in the game could survive the spears.  Sounds like our friend the turtle, we just need to find out how to communicate with him from a distance.  Or... perhaps, tell him to go to the control room before we have gone there ourselves.  Except he's too slow to survive the dangerous machinery -- sorry, Mr. Turtle!  Trying again with EXEX in effect helps, if we can work around the parser's expectations -- TURTLE, GO SOUTHEAST doesn't work but TURTLE, GO SE does.  We also need to cast EXEX on ourselves, as the turtle's crossing has sped up the machinery -- but some time needs to pass between casts, so we have to plan ahead a bit. 

Sleeping and starting fresh, we can EXEX ourselves and run to the Control Room to join our turtle friend.  Now the turtle is still getting smashed by the hammer on the way back, though he does disarm the spear trap.  Can we time it so he doesn't?  Apparently not, as the crash that kills him does not coincide with the routine Crash! of the hammer every other turn.  And even after the turtle's unwitting (and probably unwilling) sacrifice, there's another spear trap ready to cause us trouble on our own way back.

Looking for another hint, I learned that we have to take advantage of the parser's features, and give the turtle the whole series of instructions, never going to the control room ourselves or trying to shout directions across the noisy room.  So TURTLE, GO SE. TAKE THE SCROLL. GO NW. works -- and this time he's fast enough to avoid the giant hammer and survive!  This is the kind of puzzle Infocom was really good at -- complex, with lots of ideas that might work but do not, and enough support from the design so that lots of them almost work, while the real solution makes the best sense. We would be remiss if we did not take a turn to say TURTLE, THANK YOU -- he replies, "Glad to be of help.  I think I'll get back to the beach, now."  And his role in our adventure is done.

Now can we... ?  Yes, KULCAD MONSTER reveals the Guarded Door as a simple wooden door, its magical guardian having been dispelled.  Now we can reach the map room, where we find a purple scroll, a worn pencil inscribed with runes, and an old parchment map.  The ASCII-rendered map appears to match the Translucent Room area we've mapped out, but it is inscribed with letters and indicates the presence of a room P that can't be reached by any existing passage.


The other rooms are also lettered, which is probably another clue about how we might use the map.  The purple scroll contains the filfre spell -- to create gratuitous fireworks -- but it's complicated enough that we can't GNUSTO FILFRE.  I'm hitting the inventory limit in my playthrough at this point, so I drop the opened egg and the dusty book. 

Hmmm... the pencil is from the Frobozz Magic Pencil Company.  Can we use it to amend the map?  Yes, but it releases the fabled Unseen Terror!  Our score drops to -10, and the game is over with a rank of Menace to Society.  So that's not a good idea.  Experimentation reveals that we have enough of the worn pencil left to draw two connections, and erase two connections.  So maybe we can rouse the beast and move it out of its lair, without actually releasing it into the world at large.  But it doesn't seem to move unless it thinks it can escape, and we can't really tell where it is without making some educated guesses.  The Terror's room contains a scroll emanating power, but we can't allow the Terror to escape.  Maybe we need to cut off the main entrance and use the triangle area to avoid it ourselves.  ERASE B AND R; CONNECT P TO F -- now we can approach the Terror without letting it out of the maze. 

The powerful scroll, we discover, contains the guncho spell, used to banish the victim to another plane of existence.  Powerful magic indeed, but it's also complex so again we can't transfer it to the spell book.  GUNCHO TERROR wipes it out.  But did we really gain anything by doing so?  All we've done is find the Terror and destroy it, losing the scroll in the process.  So we might need to be smarter about this, and save the scroll for Krill.  Can we get in and out of the maze without releasing the Terror?  We are trapped once we are in the creature's presence, so we need to avoid it completely unless we're going into the room with the scroll, where we can at least defend ourselves.

So... can we predict the Terror's movements?  Does it make a beeline for the exit?  If so, it would probably traverse through P, M, R, and B.  We want to go M, then to P, get the scroll, go to F and get the Terror trapped again.  Maybe if we start at R and then take the sidestep route through H... no, it's moving too fast and soon catches up with us.  Does it seek us out?  The Invisiclues indicate that it only moves one room per turn, so we have options here.  Maybe we can trap it in the F-V-J-K section of the translucent maze by disconnecting M and V.  So we'll try this -- connect P to F; wait a turn, then disconnect M and V, then disconnect F and P.  Now we can CONNECT M TO P and grab the scroll...

That seemed to work, whew!  Confirmation comes a few turns later, when You hear a horrible anguished scream through the walls of the cavern as the Terror realizes that it is trapped and its scroll of power stolen!

Now we seem to be well prepared to take on Krill, but we still have the temple full of hairy humanoids to deal with.  And the Gordian box, which I had almost forgotten about.  Since we've freed the adventurer, maybe we can get him to cut the cords.  He's not interested, and he's suspicious if we try to give the box to him, nor will he let us take his glowing elven sword.  Hmmmm.  We have nothing else suitably cutting in inventory.  The temple ceremony employs a ritual dagger, but we don't have time to do anything there before we are sacrificed. 

It's time to experiment a bit with our bulging spell book.  We can VAXUM a group of four hairy figures if we approach the Junction via the Library, and they back off, chatting cheerfully.  We may see the adventurer tearing past, having fought them in another room, but this doesn't seem to clear a path for us.  We also cannot VAXUM the HOST of figures seen outside our sacrificial cell; only small groups are susceptible, and after doing so we are still accosted by a large group in the Junction area and sacrificed as usual.

Invisiclues time again... we need the ozmoo spell to survive the sacrifice.  A clue to finding it is found in a dream... the bright face, perhaps?  If only there were some friendly individuals around...

There are some rat tracks in the ashes of the library, leading to a scroll in a rat hole containing the gondar spell -- quench an open flame.  We can VAXUM ADVENTURER to befriend him, but he still won't cut the box open for us.  Ack!

Further clue hunting suggests that we didn't need to use the KULCAD spell on the illusion door -- we should have befriended the adventurer and had him open it!  Oh, well.  I'm running low on bread and have had to fill the water jug twice at 721 moves, so it's probably best to start over and economize turns, now that I've figured a few things out.

Starting over, I'm able to round up the spells fairly quickly this time.  This time we'll VAXUM ADVENTURER and get him to follow us; he has his treasure-seeking eye on the ornamental egg in our possession, it appears.  ADVENTURER, OPEN THE DOOR results in an entertaining scene as we see him being attacked by illusory knives, flames, and rats, but he is immune to the illusion that does physical damage to our magic-sensitive selves.  Now he's collecting items we need from the map room.  He gives up the purple scroll willingly, but if we fall asleep, we may find that some other treasures have been liberated from our person.

Inventory slots may become tight later in the game, and I realized that we can save an inventory slot by FROTZing the jug or any other item we have to carry anyway, and dropping the lantern.  211 moves and I have the map in hand, ready to deal with the Terror again.  Then I had to sleep -- the adventurer stole the map and pencil and silver spoon, but not the scrolls or basic supplies so that was okay.  Except -- I later realized -- he also took the spell book, so that's no good.  It's probably better if we BLORB it before napping -- but in my case I was now too tired to learn it!  Time once again to restore and be more efficient so we can protect our spell book from the adventurer's random theft and redistribution.

Now I think we've solved most of the puzzles, so it's time to see if we can get into the Temple.  We have no time to react, still, if we get captured and sacrificed.  We have three powerful scrolls that can't be transferred, and a spell book full of potentially useful spells, but we lose our possessions, so any escape we can engineer will have to be based on something we can memorize.  I tried several ideas but remained stuck, so it was Invisiclues time again; this time I learned that the dream with the glowing face refers to the Gallery!  Dropping the frotzed jug and entering the gallery after nightfall reveals a single lighted portrait, behind which we find a black candle and a black scroll.  The scroll contains the ozmoo spell -- survive unnatural death -- and we can GNUSTO this one, then LEARN OZMOO and OZMOO ME (the effect involving a classical huge puff of orange smoke) after we're thrown in the cell but before we are taken to the altar.

None of the creatures appear to notice that we have survived, as we awake with the dagger in our chests.  And if we encounter this scenario on a second go-round, without our belongings, we die as usual.  Can we try dispatching the creatures with a massive CLEESH?  No, it only affects some of them, not all.  Can we GONDAR their torches?  No.  But they seem to be ignoring me, so maybe I just need to leave my belongings behind somewhere so they aren't confiscated before we attempt to go through the Junction and the temple sacrifice.  Except I still need a light source to find my stash afterward, so I should also LEARN FROTZ and cast it on the dagger.

With the dagger, we can cut the rope on the jewelled box in the closet.  This reveals a vellum scroll containing the melbor spell - protect magic users from harm by evil beings.  That's pretty general, but should be handy.

Now that the Temple's denizens are satisfied with their sacrifice, even though it got up and walked away, we can access the Landing east of the Junction, leading to a winding staircase.  Apparently this is an infinite staircase -- we can climb upward or downward indefinitely -- but we can KULCAD it to reveal it as an illusion, before we pull a Wile E. Coyote and plummet into an apparently bottomless pit, just behind our heavier possessions.  We find ourselves holding a new scroll, containing the izyuk spell -- it allows us to fly like a bird, but only for a few turns and we can't plummet fast enough to catch up with our lost belongings.  The tower remains infinite, even without the staircase, and while we don't land hard, we learn that After many years, only tattered remnants of you remain, still falling.

We can't seem to get around this, but we still have our lightweight scrolls after flying out of the tower while IZYUK ME is briefly in effect.  For safety's sake, we should eat and drink before we enter the tower, as we will lose the jug and the bread, and as the spell book is also lost we may have to memorize some spells; we just don't know what they would be yet, and we can only remember so many before the ones learned earlier start to become jumbled. 

Floating eastward out of the Winding Stair tower, we find ourselves in Krill's secret chamber.  We learn that he was the main figure sacrificing us in the temple, to our nonexistent surprise.  Krill snaps his fingers, and a giant dragon appears!  So it seems we probably should have learned GONDAR.  Restoring and replaying verifies that yes, that works -- the dragon's flame is doused and the creature vanishes.  Then Krill summons another creature, dark and shapeless but armed with a battle axe.  Does the MELBOR spell protect us from this evil being?  Nope.  But CLEESH does the job nicely, as the axe falls and cuts the newly-minted newt neatly in half.

Now Krill is out of tricks and starts a guttural chant.  It's time to pull out the big gun -- GUNCHO KRILL, and victory is ours!


We join the Circle of Enchanters at Belboz's side, and the closing text promotes the continuing Enchanter series, probably revised in this 1986 edition after the trilogy was well established. 

Few companies published interactive fiction with Infocom's sophistication and dedication to the form; while other parsers often claimed to do more, they often relied on tricks and heuristics that created an easily-pierced illusion of improved comprehension.  Infocom's parser was not perfect, nor was its storytelling, but its works are still among the best adventure games in existence.  The next game in this series is Sorcerer, which we will doubtless tackle in due course.


  1. Great review. This brings back memories of adventuring in years gone by.

    Like you, I had trouble with the faces/portraits problem. I'd FROTZed myself as a sensible (huh!) precaution against losing my light source in a dark area. But of course that meant it was impossible to see the gallery in darkness.

    In those days before internet access, I had to buy the Invisiclues booklet to proceed. And that meant by mail order all the way from America, since booklets weren't available in the shops, and I didn't know about the UK distributors!

  2. 6:15 PM: FROTZ ME.

    11:15 PM: Frotz me!!!

  3. This was the first text game I ever played and I eventually had to give up. Now I see that I wouldn't have had a snowball's chance of finishing it. I remember the turtle, but never thought of trying "follow me". Many thanks again for the memories and looking forward to Sorcerer.

  4. I really enjoyed this review. Also looking forward to Sorcerer...