Thursday, April 13, 2017

[C-64] The Realm of Impossibility

Around the same time I got into D&D (1984) our family bought a Commodore 64, an upgrade from the Atari 2600 we'd had for a couple-three years prior. While some kids presumably used their C-64s to learn how to write code and set themselves off on a life as techies, I just used it to play games. Over the years we owned this computer I played lots of D&D-like games, including Temple of Apshai and Wizard's Crown and and a bunch of others whose names I've forgotten (but not any of the Zork series - I needed visual stimulation!), culminating in the actual D&D-branded Pool of Radiance, but my favorite game by far was always the first and simplest - Realm of Impossibility, by Electronic Arts (the same company that later took over the world with sports games).

This game was clearly D&D-inspired, but I don't think I actually recognized the connection at the time because my exposure to fantasy was so narrow that I think I just assumed all of it was "standard fantasy stuff." The premise was very simple - either one or two players ventured into 13 different maze-like "dungeons" with names like Tarterus, Gehenna, the Ethereal Plane, and The Abyss (see?) seeking to gather treasure and get back out without being killed by monsters - zombies, spiders, snakes, and blob-things. You couldn't attack them, you could only run, drop crosses to temporarily block them (the crosses evaporated after a few seconds), or gather scrolls that had a few different effects - freezing all the monsters in place or confusing the monsters or making you impervious to their attacks for a few seconds. The main gimmick and most memorable feature of the game was that the levels were all drawn in such a way that they looked 3-D - the walls were at angles, and you'd occasionally have to go up or down "ladders" or cross over "ledges" to get from one section to another. It was all fake (they were just angled 2-D walls) but looked really cool to my 9-year-old eyes and fired my imagination and made the world feel much bigger than what was shown on the screens.

It's a really simple game, but I played it for countless hours - in part, I'm sure, because I wasn't very good at it so I was constantly dying and having to start over.

Even though I don't think I consciously make the connection between this game and D&D I'm sure it subconsciously influenced my approach to the game nonetheless, both my attraction towards complex, maze-like and three-dimensional dungeons, and my preference for running away from and/or tricking monsters instead of hack & slash melee. Thinking about it now, it might be fun to convert this game's monster-blocking crosses into a D&D magic item. Something, perhaps, like this:
Boccob's Blocking Bases: These items are discs of green soapstone, each about 4" in diameter, engraved with the symbol of Boccob (an eye within a pentagram) on one side and the symbol of Zagyg (two parallel zigzagging lines) on the other. They are always found as a set of six, inside a small sack or pouch. They radiate strong Abjuration and faint Alteration magic if detected.
When one of these discs is placed flat with the Boccob side up, it creates a 5' radius spherical force field that is a completely impassible barrier to all enchanted creatures (cf. protection from evil), all summoned animals or monsters, and all undead creatures (due to the latter's connection with the Negative Material Plane). Each disc will function for 3-18 rounds after being placed, and will then disappear. So long as their possessor has retained at least one disc from the set the others will reappear in the storage device where they are kept 1-3 rounds after disappearing, and may then be re-used. However, if all of the discs have been placed then they do not reappear to that character (presumably they are sent off into the multiverse by Boccob to be discovered by a new user). Anyone not affected by the discs may move them, or may attempt to destroy them, in which case they are AC -2, have 25% magic resistance, and can take 25 points of damage apiece before shattering.
If a beverage container such as a mug or flagon is placed atop one of these discs while the Zagyg side is facing up it will not spill, and its contents will retain their temperature (hot or cold) for up to four hours. Any identification-type magic used upon these items will always reveal the Zagyg-side's functions first.
XP Value: 2,000
GP Value: 15,000 

I never hear anything about this game, and even a Google search didn't turn up much about it. I don't think any of my friends had it but they all loved playing it at my house. That's a little sad to me, because it really was a lot of fun and was a big part of my childhood.

I found a YouTube video of somebody playing (not very well) through the first two levels, which brought back a flood of vivid memories. In particular, I suspect I'm now going to have the theme-song stuck in my head for the next several weeks...


  1. I had a lot of access to video games but not a Commodore 64. My cousin had a TRS-80 and I had an Apple IIc and at school they were pretty lame except for the IBM in print shop that had the first Microsoft flight simulator. I designed a program that worked like RAIDERS/ET for Atari or KING'S QUEST for Apple. So I had the dungeon down but not the monsters. Then I gave up on it after a year of no one giving a shit to focus on the instant gratification of my ongoing superhero series ( some that were done in school notebooks) everybody in high school knew me by my characters. It was weird. On the TRS-80 me cousin had DUNGEONS OF DAGGORATH but I had everything for the Apple even the most obscure shit like TSR Hobbies' THESEUS AND THE MINOTAUR (in color!).

  2. The other early EA C-64 game we had, that I also played a lot but didn't like as well, was "Murder on the Zinderneuf," which was pretty much "Clue" with a couple of gimmicks. I just now learned that one of its creators was Paul Reiche, who also had an undistinguished tenure at TSR c. 1980-81 (where his biggest claims to fame was ripping off Arduin's phraints into the thri-keen for the AD&D Monster Cards and polishing up Gary & Luke Gygax's manuscript for GW1: Legion of Gold).

  3. In regards to D&D being a video game, it never really happened but all the pieces are there from the entire history of computer games but the genre is so corrupt by user-end feelings that every attempt at capturing that into a game is missing some quality. They need straight replication of CHAINMAIL then build from there.

  4. My friend had the C64 - I had the Atari. I didn't play any adventure games until Pool of Radiance, but we did play the hell out of the EA summer Olympics game when the LA Olympics were going on.

  5. Neat! Besides Zork, my earliest computer "fantasy" game was Rogue, which was nothing more than ASCII green characters moving around on a black screen. It was simple, it didn't look anything like, well, anything (anymore than those Coleco handheld sports games looked like real football and basketball matches) and was terribly addicting. I loved this game, and wonder if that is part of the reason I enjoyed Dungeon Robber so much.

    1. Dungeon Robber was so much fun! I played that obsessively for a couple weeks and couldn't stop until I'd won (unlocked all the levels). It's not much of an exaggeration to say that most of my current interest in D&D was rekindled by playing that silly flash game. I included it in my "links of interest" tab in hopes of luring other unsuspecting folks into its addictive clutches! :)