The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games are interesting offshoots of the mainline Mystery Dungeon titles. They make clear a stark difference between primacy and popularity: if you only care about sales, then there is no question that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games are the main games, because their sales vastly outweigh the other games. The games in the second generation, Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky, are the best-selling Mystery Dungeon games of all. You have to know that there’s around 30 other games, many much older than the Pokemon flavor, in fact older than Pokemon itself by three years, to know the whole story.
Yet the PMD games are still Mystery Dungeon titles, and they play very similarly. They’re graphical roguelike dungeon-crawl games, just, you, your teammates, and your opponents are not generic fantasy creatures, but Pokemon. That is, specific fantasy creatures. Trademarked ones, in fact.
Because PMD’s fairly popular, you’re more likely to find investigations into its internals than the Shiren or other Mystery Dungeon games, just from the number of people who exist in its audience with both the will and skill to investigate. Yet, those internals are close enough to the MD standard that they even provide insight into how classic Mystery Dungeon operates.
YouPotato TheZZAZGlitch’s usualy video stomping grounds in Pokemon, but they have a fondness for PMD, so they’ve made a video on how the first generation (Red/Blue Rescue Team) generates its dungeons, and what do you know, many of these floor types are also very familiar to me from my time exploring the Shiren games, and it doesn’t seem a stretch at all to presume they’re run by the same, or at least a very similar, algorithm.
‘@Play‘ is a frequently-appearing column which discusses the history, present, and future of the roguelike dungeon exploring genre.
Back in the GameSetWatch era, I focused more on a general kind of audience for @Play. No, really! I notice that I’ve gotten a fair bit more detailed so far in the Set Side B era. That’s especially the case this time, which is a dive into the history of Angband. But there’s a purpose to this: after knowing where Angband’s been, it’ll help us when, next time, we finally look at its huge number of variants. That should be a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to it. I hope it’ll make up for all the time I had to spend building this one.
Angband has a long and somewhat convoluted history. There aren’t many open source games with its longevity. It’s managed to keep going by changing ownership somewhat regularly, with each maintainer adding their own stamp to its play.
The Release section of the current Angband homepage rephial.org goes into exacting detail over what was introduced when, but it’s a lot to sift through, and in terms of volume most changes are just bugfixes.
I have gone through all the pages and tried to render down the essence of each change, and what effect it had upon Angband. In this article, we follow along with the various changes that have been made since its origin, and in the end try to note the best version to play, for people interested (or not) in its various aspects.
Some of this will be familiar to people who have been reading @Play on Angband so far, so I’ll keep it brief. MORIA was created by Robert Koeneke in 1983, and may be the first true “roguelike” that wasn’t Rogue itself.
Moria was written in Pascal, a fine language that, sadly, isn’t nearly as popular as C. UMORIA (5/3/1987) is a reimplementation of Moria in C. It was updated until July 7, 1994, with one last gasp on 10/13/2008 by a different developer.
ANGBAND was based on UMoria 5.2.1, and is where our story really begins.
Other variants of Moria include Morgul (1993), PC Moria (unknown years), and VMS Moria (1983-1985).
Angband 1.0 (1990): The first version of Angband was derived from UMoria by Alex Cutler and Andy Astrand. My indications are that Angband was largely a bigger version of Moria back then: 100 levels instead of 50, beat up Sauron and Morgoth at the end instead of a balrog. This version probably doesn’t survive, and doesn’t seem to have been widely distributed outside the University of Warwick.
What The Frog?
Angband 2.4.frogknows (April 11, 1993): This version was called (right on its title screen) “2.4.frogknows,” was produced by Steve Marsh and Geoff Hill after Angband’s creators graduated, and was the first version with a wide release. This version put a definite stamp on the game, and founded aspects of what many consider iconic about Angband. Amazingly, binary and source versions of frogknows are available from the current-day Angband Home Site.
How does it differ from UMoria?
Added more Tolkien, D&D and Rolemaster monsters
More object types, including rods, which don’t have limited charges, but instead have a timeout between uses
Special dungeon rooms
Monsters can be generated in groups
Monsters have more spells and abilities
Special monsters based on defeated players (“ghosts”) can appear in the dungeon and attack you
Treasure pits, a predecessor of vaults, appear. These are large rooms with lots of treasure but also out-of-depth monsters
It helps, when giving dates, to give some idea of what else was going on in the world at the time. In the same year as frogknows, Bill Clinton was inaugurated as U.S. President, and child sexual abuse allegations were made against Michael Jackson. It was the 16-bit era in console video gaming. Secret of Mana came out for the SNES. Arcades saw the release of Mortal Kombat II and Super Street Fighter II. Among roguelikes, the NetHack DevTeam would release 3.1.0, the beginning of modern NetHack, but they hadn’t yet gotten to the venerable 3.1.3 version.
If you’re only used to 4.2.4, there are some specific things to be aware of. Mages are much more fragile starting out in older versions, with very slow spell point regeneration, while warriors can be played in a much more direct, hacky-smacky style. It you get stuck on a dungeon level, there’s probably a secret door you didn’t find; use the ‘s’ key in corridors and along walls to search for them. You must remember to wield torches to use them, you don’t start with anything equipped. Artifacts and ego items look just like normal items until identified. You don’t find stacks of useful potions and scrolls at once, but have to find across them one at a time.
Seemingly on the same day as the release of frogknows, Charles Teague (who helped with frogknows) released PC Angband 1.0.
PC Angband went on its own for awhile. In the year 1993: April 20: 1.1; May 20: 1.2. August 18: 1.3; August 28: 1.3.1; it switched hands to Charges Teague. Then, March 7 1994: 1.4; and then, by Phil Yellott, on February 18 1995: 1.4.1b. After that, the line seems to have been merged back into mainline Angband.
Most versions of Angband before 2.8.0 are lost, and those that survive are usually only available in source form, but 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4 of the the PC Angband line survive and are playable in DOSbox. 1.0 and 1.1 also survive, but their closeness to frogknows means that the Angband site links them from its page.
PC Angband 1.2 (5/20/1993): Players could look at monsters to determine how wounded they are, and a stat autoroller was added.
PC Angband 1.3, 1.3.1 (8/28/1993): Targeting was added, allowing players to launch missiles and magic in arbitrary directions, not just in the orthogonal and diagonal ones. (You still can’t do this in NetHack, since it would materially affect other aspects of the game.) And players could gain more than one level at a time.
1.3.1 is an auspicious release, as the base of Angband’s first variants. One of these is Angband–, which seems to be lost, but would serve as the foundation of ZAngband, a mega-variant that itself saw a lot of iteration. It would inspire CthAngband, ToME, and Hengband, all variants that continue to see a lot of interest even now. Hengband is a Japanese variant with several notable children itself, and ToME has been rewritten several times, and now is basically its own separate, full-fledged game. You can even get it on Steam. We’ll talk more about variants, a huge topic, next time.
Mainline Angband, 2.X
Angband 2.5.0 (12/8/1993): Charles Swiger took over as maintainer. Versions from this to 2.5.9 were released with many technical and miscellaneous changes that I won’t bore you with. Targeting was ported into mainline Angband with 2.5.6.
2.5.8 is the only of these versions that is available on the Angband home site, and even that only in the form of source code.
PC Angband 1.4 (3/7/1994): The last version of PC Angband, and Charles Teague’s last contribution to the game. Many of its changes were merged with the core game. It added a new speed system, and other miscellaneous adjustments.
Angband 2.6.0 (9/4/1994): More miscellaneous changes over three versions, and the end of Charles Swiger’s tenure. 2.6.1 and 2.6.2 are available as source code.
The Macintosh port of 2.6.1 marked a notable addition to the roster of people who have worked on Angband….
Angband 2.7.0 (1/14/1995): Ah! With this version, Angband legend Ben Harrison began his work. The current Angband homesite calls it the beginning of the Second Age of Angband.
Ben Harrison cleaned up the code greatly, almost rewriting it, and fixed lots of bugs, resulting in the 2.8 line being the foundation for many variants. A lot of Angband’s reputation for spawning variants is due to this version, both directly and by its successors. Ben Harrison also founded a notable Angband Home Page on the World Wide Web, that survives today. (The successor to it, thangorodrim.net, has not been so lucky.) And, Ben Harrison invented the Angband Borg, in which one’s computer plays Angband itself, learning about the game as it goes.
2.7.2 added the Scroll of *Identify* to the game, which offers complete information on an artifact’s properties. (Angband loves emphasizing words with asterisks.)
2.7.4 is notable because it’s one of the few versions of Angband from back then that’s still available in compiled form, and downloadable from the Angband site. Its Windows version doesn’t work well for me, producing a garbled display on Windows 10. The DOS version appears to be salvaged from someone’s playfield; it has a valid save file for a character named Whopper, a Human Paladin, who is in the middle of exploring the dungeon, and carries the artifact “Sting.”
2.7.5 rewrote dungeon generation. 2.7.6 added a health bar for monsters. And 2.7.7. removed player ghosts “temporarily,” but they have yet to return even today. This is the version that rephial.org says added Angband’s famed monster memory, a set of spoilers that the game creates and maintains as you play, collecting all the information that your characters have learned on their adventures. However, some form of this extends back as far as PC Angband 1.0.
2.8.0 (10/12/1996): 2.8.1 expanded dungeon spaces so more than one item can fit in a space. Up until then, any dungeon space could only hold one object on the ground. This sometimes caused enemies to leave less treasure than they would otherwise have if they were being fought in a corridor, since there simply wouldn’t be enough room for it all. (The Mystery Dungeon games abide by this restriction, where it adds some unexpected wrinkles to its gameplay.) It also made it so any player race can try to play as any class, although some are probably not good ideas with the stats the game assigns to them.
The 2.8 series on Windows contains rudimentary graphics, but several of its releases don’t like to work on current Windows.
2.8.2 removed the prompt for the number of items to drop, sell, or destroy at once. Instead, players could specify a count before the command, similar to Rogue and NetHack’s repeat systems. After vocal outcry from some players, 2.8.3 added it right back again.
2.8.3 was Harrison’s last official version, although he’d release a version of a prospective 2.8.5 for testing. This version seems to be the first version with support for Allegro tile-based graphics on Windows, but it’s not enabled in the supplied binary. It contains the font-based graphics of the other 2.8 versions, but they have to be enabled in ANGBAND.INI, by setting the variable Graphics therein to 1. Although the tiles are tiny and hard to make out, it’s recommended to play this way, as the terminal graphics are messed up on current Windows. You can somewhat get around this by use the Look command (‘l’) to identify characters in sight. This version does not have compiled DOS binaries on the Angband home site. This (the garbled terminal graphics and Graphics=1 in ANGBAND.INI) is also true of several of its successors.
2.9.0 (4/11/2000): A new Angband for the year 2000. Robert Ruhlman took over the reins of Angband with this version and created the thangorodrim.net website (Wayback link). 2.9 added birth options (see the previous article for more on those), one of them being a way to enforce the “ironman” playstyle, where characters are disallowed from ever using upstairs. Other birth options remove shops or artifacts from the game, or else replace the built-in set of artifacts with randomly-generated replacements. Font graphics can be enabled in ANGBAND.INI on Windows, but are on by default on DOS.
3.0.0 (3/30/2002): A notable change with this version was the addition of Lua scripting to the game. You might think that sounds like it’d be a great idea, after all lots of other games have used Lua, but it actually didn’t see much use, and would be removed from the code with 3.0.8.
It’s minor from a play standpoint, but 3.0.2 removed the term “Genocide” from the game, in order to disassociate a mere computer pastime from real-life horrors. The effect was renamed to Banishment, although this meant that the pre-existing Priest spell Banishment had to itself be renamed to Banish Evil to avoid nominal confusion.
3.0.4 marked two significant changes. With this version junk items, which were included as dungeon flavor but served no real game purpose, were no longer generated in the dungeon. And this was the version to, finally, remove haggling over prices to buy or sell from shops, which I have to say, after experiencing Moria, is probably my own personal favorite change. (Up until this point, the game had already been shortening haggling a lot.)
Robert Ruhlmann stopped maintaining Angband with 3.0.6 (6/8/2005). It’s also the last version supplied with DOS support.
3.0.8p1 (prerelease, 6/24/2007): Anna Sidwell takes the fiery spikéd torch from Robert Ruhlmann, and removes Lua support. This is the first version to have item “squelching,” allowing the player to set the game to automatically ignore items they aren’t interested in. Mouse support is added, and the code cleaned up again.
3.1.0 (beta, 1/24/2009): This version marked fairly large changes to gameplay. Monsters here ceased to drop so many items, potions began tending to appear in stacks, and healing became proportional to wounds taken. (I’m not quite sure what that means.) A “bad” class of items from previous versions, that reduce a stat and provide no upside, was replaced with alternate items that lower one stat but raise another. Gold generation was toned down in the later dungeon, and traps start out only generating relative safe types, with the worse ones saved for getting progressively deeper in the dungeon.
Graphics here, by default, are TTY-based, but can be switch to tiled graphics from the Options menu fairly easily. If the window is too small for you (easily possible), the size of the screen can be adjusted in steps from the Window menu.
3.1.1 (beta, 7/29/2009): Another auspicious moment for the game of Angband. For many years Angband had suffered, after being worked on for so long and by so many hands, of not having a clear line of copyright for all its code, which prevented it from going full GPL. While everyone generally agreed that the game should have fully open source and no one was really against it, the community’s inability to contact everyone who contributed to the source code meant they couldn’t fully relicense it. With this version, the last of these rights issues was finally cleared up, and Angband became available under a dual license, both GPL and its own Angband source license.
3.1.2v2 is credited to the Angband Development Team, I think signalling them taking over from Anna Sidwell.
3.2.0 (12/24/2010): Armor Class, the game statistic indicating how protected a character is from harm, was changed to make heavy armor more worth it relative to their weight. The speed system was changed again. Element resistances was extended to cover carried items. With this version, all artifacts became immediately recognizable: items with names are instantly known, although your character still won’t know what their abilities are until discovered in play. Until that point, you would eventually get a good feeling about a specific item if it was an unrecognized artifact that had been carried for awhile.
Starting in this version, I notice, you can resize the window to get more of a view of the world.
3.3.0 (7/31/2011): Dungeon generation got another long-overdue overhaul. New cavern and labyrinth special level types were introduced. Level feelings, a part of the game going back to frogknows, were redesigned, separating the danger level of a level from the treasures on it. Resistances were revamped. This version made the spiking of doors, in order to slow down pursuing monsters, a feature that had long been in the game and derived from tactics in classic D&D, more effective.
3.4.0 (9/14/2012): Development pace slowed for a bit here. Various changes over the years had resulted in Angband becoming easier, and this version attempt to restore some of its classic difficulty.
3.5.0 (12/24/2013): Changed the game a fair bit. Charisma, often the dump stat in D&D-derived games, was removed entirely. Item generation was rebalanced, ego items redistributed by level, and shops by default no longer buy items from the player; you can instead donate an item to a shop to be identified or recharged. Money in dungeons was made more plentiful to compensate. (Shops will buy items again, and less money will be generated, if enabled with a birth option.) Random monster generation was toned down, and continuing the trend towards removing bad items, Scrolls of Curse Armor and Curse Weapon were removed. And with this version, door spiking was removed entirely, along with jammed doors and bashing them down. I guess people didn’t like it as much as it was thought they would.
By this point Angband on Windows had come to default to offering the multi-headed display. (One of the Ben Harrison released versions also turned it on by default, I forget which one.) It also offers current-day Angband’s choices for tile size. At a glance, it looks a lot like the 4.0 series.
Modern Angband (4.X)
4.0.0 (6/29/2015): Nick McConnell takes over maintaining Angband. A new rewriting of the code begins, with the intent of not making game changes until it is finished.
4.1.0 (6/25/2017): Big changes are made to the game after extensive forum discussion. I described many of these aspects in more detail last time. Active searching (with the ‘s’ key) is removed entirely after 24 years; stepping next to a secret door now always reveals it immediately. Identification of equipment properties and curses takes on its current rune-based form, and classic roguelike “sticky” curses are removed entirely. All potions, scrolls, and mushrooms are immediately identified on first use, and wands, staves, and rods usually identify when used, unless they only work by affecting monsters and none are present when tried. Conversely however, Scrolls of Identify and *Identify* are now gone, replaced with Scrolls of Identify Rune. More level generation types are added, including a “Moria level” in homage to the original game. Status ailments that could be inflicted by monsters were made more interesting.
4.1.1 added a birth option to make dungeon levels persistent, not being regenerated when left and returned to. It’s still in as an experimental feature today.
4.2.0 (8/17/2019): As of this writing, it’s the current major release of Angband. (The newest minor version. 4.2.4, was released 2/22/2022.) This version revamped the magic system, adding two more types to make for four major varieties, and added druids and necromancers that specialize in them. The number of spellbooks was reduced so players don’t have to lug as many around. Shapechanging is added for players and monsters. Many new mechanics are added to the game with this version.
What Flavor Of Doom Is Right For You?
Some of these versions of Angband are still available to download, so you can play the one that’s in the most accord with your personal preferences. Over the years, some features have been toned down or removed entirely, and others introduced and given prominence. Generally speaking, later versions of Angband are easier than earlier ones, and also put more of the focus on combat than dungeon exploration, but this not a universal trend.
If you want an experience as close to Moria, and Rogue, as possible, you’ll want to seek out 2.4.frogknows. You’ll get an authentic, but sometimes annoying, game.
2.7.5 removed player ghosts. It also added, or at least improved, the monster memory. Memory is a great help, over many games, towards recognizing which monsters are the most dangerous and why. (The full history of the monster ability recall function will probably have to wait for another time.) 2.7.6 is the first version after this point that survives.
For graphics, 2.7.6 and successive versions have tile graphics if you change Graphics=0 to Graphics=1 in ANGBAND.INI, which will also ungarble the console on modern Windows. For Windows tile graphics, version 2.8.3 is likely the earliest version with Allegro support, but you’ll have to build it yourself.
2.9.0 added birth options, letting you customize the game more to your liking.
3.0.0 added Lua scripting, which might be interesting to modders.
3.0.2 added item squelching, helping streamline the exploration of the dungeon.
3.0.4 is when haggling with shopkeepers, a long-standing feature going back to Moria, was finally removed.
3.0.8 removed the problematic “genocide” terminology, and Lua scripting.
3.1.1 is when Angband’s rights issues were worked out.
With 3.2.0, artifacts became known on sight, greatly reducing the possibility of missing out on something great, and dungeon generation was overhauled.
Like the idea of spiking doors to delay pursuers? That was in the game from all the way back in frogknows, but was made more effective in 3.3.0.
Hate that idea? It was excised from the play entirely in 3.5.0.
3.5.0 is also when shopkeepers stopped buying items from players without enabling that as a birth option.
Hate tapping the ‘s’ key to find doors? That was removed in 4.1.0. Up until then, if you didn’t have a magic aid to searching, you could get stuck in parts of the dungeon where all the doors out were hidden. With this version, stepping next to a hidden door is enough to reveal it.
Hate cursed items that make it hard to stop using them? Like the rune-based ID system? Both aspects also changed in 4.1.0. That’s also when identification was changed: identify scrolls were removed, but it became less dangerous to ID things from use, and dungeon generation was overhauled again.
If you like magic other than just Arcane and Divine, you’ll have to play the most recent line, and thus probably should go with the current version, 4.2.4. If you have no other preferences you should also go with this version to get the latest features and play niceties.
Well that was certainly a long and dry description, but it’s definitely shorter than what I had to read through to get it here. I think it’s still interesting for a look back at a twenty-nine year old game that has been through many different hands. After all that, while it’s changed a lot, Angband still feels a lot like it did in 1993: it’s a tactics-heavy dungeon exploration and combat game, with a lot of area to explore, but with occasional heart-stopping moments of terror.
Next time will be the end of our Angband discussion for now, where we embark on the long-promised exploration into the world of its variants. Angband variants are based on different versions throughout its long history, so having this version key to refer to will be very useful. See you then!
EDIT: Explained frogknows a bit better. Made a few other clarifications. This was a hard article to write.
‘@Play‘ is a frequently-appearing column which discusses the history, present, and future of the roguelike dungeon exploring genre.
Last time we re-introduced Angband. This time, we go more into what it’s like to play its current versions. Our aim here is, as with one of the the Omega articles, to get you to a point where you can play enough of the game to tell if you’ll enjoy it more long-term. Angband is nowhere near as obscure as Omega is, but despite its influence on gaming, it’s still well off the radar of most players. My hope is that this article will serve as an introductory blip at the edge of the screen.
When you begin a game of modern Angband on Windows, you might be slighty overwhelmed. The screen fills up with terminals! This “multi-headed” approach seeks to keep more useful game information available at once. There are keystrokes that make that other information available on the main screen, so at first everything but the main game window can be ignored. As you get into the dungeon, you’ll find the other windows more useful.
If you’ve come back to Angband after a long absence, you might be dismayed by this appearance. All of these windows can be individually closed by clicking the close-window button in the corner. If you want them back, go under the Window menu and select Reset Layout.
All of the windows are fully configurable; to decide what each does, you can go under Term Options in the Window menu, but this stuff is for players who want to customize everything.
If you were used to, or prefer, the old ASCII display, it can be activated by going under Options | Graphics | None. There are other tile options there, and you can also choose tile scaling under “Tile Multiplier,” although explaining too much about that is getting into the weeds.
Changing the graphics settings will cause the game to try to set them back up as you had them on later plays, which you might not appreciate if you were trying to get the game back to how it was before you played around with the settings! If you really want to return to the old system, then close all the other windows and set the graphics to None, and then close the other windows. To get it back use the Reset Layout option, although you should know that you must actually be in a game to do it, it won’t work from the title screen.
Piecing By Parts Your Pretend Person
Starting a new game in Angband puts you into character creation. You can spend a lot of time picking a race and class, spending points or rerolling stats, all in order to have all that effort wiped away by a drunk mercenary in town before you even enter the dungeon. My advice is, just pick something fun and get started, because your first game will probably end pretty quickly. Classes that the developers judge doesn’t play well with your chosen race will be printed in a darker color, so just try to steer away from those. When the game asks if you want to do stats with point buy or with a roller, I suggest you go with point buy and stick with the defaults. Customizing these things is more for players who already know the game well and know the consequences of high (and low) stats.
There are two major “types” of character in Angband: those who fight in melee and with missiles, and those who cast spells. All characters but Warriors can do at least a bit of both. Magic users can do some hand-to-hand fighting when needed, but conversely Warriors won’t be able to use magic at all.
If you’re used to Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, It should be said that, unlike as in that game, your class determines some essential and unchangeable aspects of your character. These are listed for you when you press, by default, Shift-S. Each character that can use magic only avail themselves of one type. In previous versions that was either Arcane Magic, which you might think of as magic magic, and Divine Magic, or what the game calls “Prayers.” Each was the domain of either wizards and allied classes, or priests and their relatives. Recent versions have also added Nature Magic, for Druids, and Necromancy, for Necromancers. In the game, this means you can buy and find spellbooks that your character cannot use.
When you actually begin playing, you’ll be dumped into a Town that, for some reason, has sprung up above this deadly deadly dungeon. You might not expect this on your first game, but the Town Level has is own dangers: at Level 1, you can be easily killed by its more disorderly residents, and in fact you will probably find the first level of the dungeon to be safer. The monsters in Town disappear when you go downstairs, so you could lose all your assailants at once by just dipping downstairs then back up again.
You start out with some gold for buying basic supplies. If you’re playing modern Angband, by default the game will start you out with okay equipment with which you can jump right into the first level of the dungeon.
Following this paragraph is a chart of the most-used keys. You can use the ? key, then ‘a’, to get a list of all the keypresses. Angband is extremely adjustable and all of these keys can be changed, and in fact there is a “roguelike” keyset that uses more traditional keys. You can switch to the roguelike set by going into game options (by pressing the equal key, ‘=’), pressing ‘a’ to go into User Interface options, then ‘a’ again. There are a ton of things you can change in these menus, including defining all the other keys. This chart assumes that they are unmodified:
Stabby-Stabby vs. Whoosy-Sparkly
When getting started, it’s useful to keep in mind the difference between fighting and magic-using characters. There are nine classes in modern Angband. The first on the list, Warrior, is the only class with no magic at all, other than the magic devices and artifacts they may find. The next four in the list are the “pure” spellcasters, and the last four are the hybrid classes, with fighting and magic.
To attack with a melee weapon, well, this is a classic-style roguelike. Just make sure it’s equipped using the ‘w’ key, which stands both for (W)ear and (W)ield, then walk into a monster you want to attack. To use missile weapons it’s a little more complicated. Equip the right kind of launcher (a bow if you have arrows, a crossbow if you have bolts) then use the ‘f’ key, for Fire, to launch it. You can rapidly switch between weapons you’re carrying with the x key. In previous versions you would have both a primary and a secondary weapon and ‘x’ would switch between them, and you might still end up playing a variant that does things that way. In Angband though the x key just switches weapons. Missiles automatically go into a special section of your inventory called the quiver.
Using magic is a completely different process. For your main spells, you buy a magic book in the Temple in town. Each book contains a number of spells, of various difficulty levels. To see what’s in a book, you [b]rowse it, with the ‘b’ key; to learn a spell out of a book, you [g]ain it, with the ‘g’ key. Depending on your level you’ll have a different chance of learning or casting it, and you can only know so many spells. To cast a known spell, use the ‘m’ key, for [m]agic. Unlike as in NetHack, even when you know a spell from a book, you still need a copy of the book to cast it! Casting a spell both has a chance to fail and costs spell points, but at least spell points regenerate over time, unlike in Omega.
Exploring the Pits
Recent versions of Angband begin you with everything you need to jump right into the dungeon if you so choose. While you may want to use your starting funds to buy a few healing potions or Scrolls of Phase Door to use in emergencies, many players choose to begin by diving right in. The first few levels are pretty boring; the quality of stuff you find increases rapidly over the first few levels, although some care should be taken with the tougher monsters. It is an exciting way to play.
So you’re in the dungeon, what now? You need a light source; the game defaults to giving you a few torches, one of them equipped, which don’t provide great light but it’s something. You light a torch just by equipping it; using it other than that is unnecessary. You might consider upgrading to a lantern later; those are reusable by refueling them with oil. A prominent early artifact, the Phial of Galadrial, if you can find it, provides light that never runs out.
On top of depleting light, you also need to eat periodically; this can be done by either eating food (you start with a little) or reading a scroll of “Remove Hunger.” The scroll is more effective, but only gets you up to 50% fullness, and is vulnerable to fire attacks.
Aside from such basic outfitting, what you’re mainly here for is to kill monsters, lots of monsters. Once you’re in the dungeon it won’t be long before you find them. Some monsters shouldn’t be engaged with, at least in melee. This is often the case for molds and jellies, which sometimes have things they can do to you or your equipment. If a stat gets drained, it’ll be restored when you gain an experience level, so try to hold on that long. If your equipment gets damaged, there’s not much you can do other than switch to something else.
Your inventory in Angband is your life. Not literally, but very much so figuratively. Nearly all situations can be escaped if you carry the right items with you. Particularly useful is things of “Teleport Other,” that let you send a monster away from you, as in the current version of the game (4.2.4) no monster resists this.
It’s a balance, writing an introduction like this; a lot of the experiencing of playing a new game is in discovering things for yourself. There’s a lot of things I feel like I shouldn’t spoil, and it’s not like I’m an expert on playing Angband myself, but I think it’ll help to tell you that the basic play loop is: explore down into the dungeon until either your resources run low, things get too toasty for your, or your inventory fills up, then read a Scroll of Word of Recall to return to town and dispose of/utilize your acquisitions in a safer setting and replenish your supplies in the stores. Shops in the town always contain a lot of certain basic items, especially those Recall scrolls. Word of Recall always takes some turns to activate, so you can’t rely on it to get you out of immediate danger. Also, scrolls are not fireproof, and having multiples can really help you out should something happen to one of them.
As if they somehow know the details of your efforts, shops stock better and better items depending on the deepest level of the dungeon you’ve been to. It’s a good idea to keep checking in with the shops whenever you return to Town. Money serves no game purpose other than to spend in Town shops, so you might as well use it.
You’ll find the usual basic types of roguelike magic items: potions, scrolls, rings, and amulets. It’s worth keeping in mind the limits of each type of item. Magic and scrolls can’t be used while you’re confused; scrolls additionally can’t be used while you’re blind; potions are heavier but can be drunk whenever you have a spare turn. So if you’re confused a Scroll of Phase Door can’t help you, unless you cure the confusion by drinking a healing potion first.
There are three kinds of “charged” items: wands, staves, and rods. Confusingly, using default keys, wands are used with the ‘a’ key (Apply), staves with the ‘u’ key (Use), and rods with the z key (Zap). Each tends to have their own uses. Wands and staves have limited number of charges, times they can be used; some magic can recharge them, but also risks destroying the item. Rods are the odd item out; instead of limited charges, they have a timeout between times they can be used.
On top of this, some items you find in the dungeon can also be used, with Shift-A. Particularly keep this in mind if you find dragon scale armor, as their breath weapons can be quite powerful! The strongest items in the game, called artifacts, tend to have these kinds of abilities. Artifacts are the items that have names, usually in quotation marks.
Many of the strong items have functions that must be identified. Old versions of Angband used an identification system not unlike that of Rogue and Hack, but more recent iterations have overhauled this entirely. Now, equipment items bear runes that you identify independently. While it may take several identifications to find out all of an item’s runes, once you know a rune you’ll recognize it on other items for the rest of the game. Known runes can be seen with the Inspect command, Shift-I. If there are any unknown runes, there will be a couple of question marks after the item’s name: (??). Runes can be identified with one of the spells, or by reading a Scroll of Identify Rune, but if something in play causes a rune’s effect to function, like if it’s a rune of Resist Fire and you get hit by a fire attack, the game will immediately identify the rune for you.
Another thing that got overhauled in recent versions is the game’s curses. No longer are there the traditional “sticky” curses, which prevent you from equipping the item until the curse is removed. Now, you can freely remove a cursed item if you like.
Your character has an inventory limit, and can only carry a maximum of 23 items on them. Multiple items of the same type “stack together,” occupying a single inventory space, but item stacks are limited to 40 items before further items will spill over into another space. There are some weird nuances to this: arrows in your quiver, even of different types, appear to take up one stack unless you have more than 40. The game also keeps track of the weight of items you’re carrying. There is no limit to how much weight you can bear, but depending on your Strength you’ll get slowed by carrying excess weight.
Don’t forget to keep checking the contents of the shops in town. They change periodically while you’re exploring the dungeon, and tend to improve in what they carry the deeper you’ve been (although with commensurately higher prices). Money is good for nothing else in the game than buying things from these shops, so go ahead and spend it. In addition to identification, charged items you sell to shops get recharged, so if you have the money you can then buy it back with its improved capacity.
You’ll notice that some items tend to get printed with dark gray text. These items tend to have some negative effect for your character, or are possibly useless. Magic using characters will see a lot of the heavier armor is printed in gray, to indicate that they will suffer from reduced Mana when wearing it. However, wearing armor might be worth it for the protection it offers. It is a tradeoff kind of thing, don’t you see.
Speed deserves special mention. Your character’s speed is rated using a score that’s displayed in the sidebar. In general, every ten points of speed above 0 is an extra turn relative to the average monster, and every ten points below is an extra turn they get relative to you. This measure breaks down beyond +/-20, but it’s difficult to get that far.
When you fight monsters, you’ll notice the window that is by default in the lower-right fills in with information about them. This window is your view into Angband’s vaunted “monster memory.” As you play, not just your current game but many games, the game keeps records of all the statistics of the monsters you fight that your characters have deduced. This information is saved to a file as you play and isn’t reset when you start over.
At first experience levels come quickly. Angband lets you progress through the dungeon at your own pace. When you enter a level, most of the time, you’ll get a message indicating the game’s opinion of how dangerous the monsters are on it relative to how deep that level is. This message is called the level feeling. Much of the time you’ll see messages like the level seems safe or tame, but once in a while you’ll get a more dangerous-seeming message. In particular look out for the message “Omens of death haunt this place,” that’s the worst possible message and means bad news lurks about. There is also a second message, called the object feeling, that gives a sense of the quality of treasure on the level, but it only shows up after you’ve been on the level for a bit.
Your character has the ability to ‘t’unnel (Shift-T) through walls with the right implement. There’s sometimes money embedded in walls, which can be detected with Detect Treasure magic or just spotted in a corridor wall. Weapons generally are used to do this, although most weapons really suck at it. There exist in the game special weapons, shovels and picks, that are made specifically for digging. They’re awful at combat, but good for striking the earth, although it still takes a long time to do it in terms of turns. Current-day Angband automatically uses your best digging item when you try to tunnel, so you don’t have to bother changing your equipped weapon.
Angband has changed a lot since then. Like Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, its developers have worked on it, removed some other elements, added others, and what was left has sometimes been modified greatly. Current-day Angband is not really the same game as the old version, so it’s worth throwing out any old assumptions. Of special note, I’ve seen players mention the game seems to be easier than it used to be.
Some of the specific things that have changed:
The magic system has been reworked, to need fewer books. Angband magic requires you keep a spell’s book in your inventory to cast it, so this opens up inventory slots for other items.
People who played Moria will remember how you had to go through a rigamarole of haggling with merchants whenever buying or selling something. It may have been interesting once in a while, but it really could wear on your patience over the course of a long game. Thank the Valar it is no more.
As stated earlier, the magic equipment system has been changed. Instead of identifying wearable items individually, you effectively identify them in parts now. Each item bears a number of runes that determine what its properties are, and you identify those individually. Once you’ve identified all the runes, you know the item.
Curses are runes too now, there are many types of them, and items can have more than one. The traditional roguelike “sticky” curses, that prevented you from taking items off, are gone. Instead, many curses are subtle and not obvious in what they’re doing until the curse rune has been identified, and other items offer tradeoffs between good properties with curses. Some curses may even be of situational use. The removal of sticky curses (of which I’ll have more to say some time) removes most of the danger, but also much of the frustration, of using the equipment you find lying around.
There are still individual magic items, potions, scrolls, wands, staves, and rods, that must be identified individually. Now you can give up an example of each item to a shop that deals in it and in exchange it’ll be identified for you. Because of this, the old Scrolls of Identify and *Identify* are gone, although there are now scrolls that identify a rune.
To do away with the loop of lugging items back to town to sell, most of which are otherwise useless to you, now shops don’t buy items from players. If the item is useless, you can just leave it in the dungeon, as there is no monetary benefit to having it. To make up for the loss of funds, money found in the dungeon tends to be greater in value. (But see below, on “birth options.”)
What was once known as “preserve mode,” in which artifacts you never find on a level before you leave it are put back into the item generation pool and can be found at a later time, is now the default.
Some previous features have been changed to “birth options.” These are options that can only be changed at the start of the game, by entering Options (again, by pressing the Equal key, “=”) during character creation. One of these birth options reverts shops to once again buying items from players, in exchange for finding less cash in the dungeon. “Preserve mode” can be disabled, which improves level feelings to compensate. And an option in older versions called “Ironman mode,” which prevented you from returning to dungeon depths you’ve been to before, always forcing you to explore deeper and deeper, has become a pair of birth options. And there’s even a birth option now that will cause Angband’s levels to persist once you leave them. There’s other interesting birth options too, including one that replaces all the built-in artifacts with randomized alternatives!
There’s much more to say about Angband, especially about its history, and perhaps its greatest legacy: it has a vast number of variants. People modifying the source code have made more than 100 alternate versions of Angband over the years! This seems to be in large part thanks to the efforts of previous maintainer Ben Harrison, who cleaned up the code greatly, making it relatively simple, by roguelike standards, to make meaningful changes. But let’s save those matters for next time.
Of all the @Play columns, which begin to approach 100 in number, I have only directly tackled Angband once. I admit, that’s a huge oversight. Our first treatment of Angband was on GameSetWatch, which now only exists on the Wayback Machine. A reprint of that column is in my @Play collection Exploring Roguelike Games, out in print through CRC Press, but that’s admittedly kind of expensive.
An Angle on Angband
If you’ve played a Hack-like, Angband (home page) will probably look fairly similar at first. It, too, is a grid-based dungeon exploration game where you fight lots of monsters and find objects with unknown properties that you must discover as you play. Both games have randomized maps, dangerous monsters with fearsome abilities, powerful magic items to use against them, spells you can learn and cast, and traps you must look out for. Both standard-bearer for the Hack series, NetHack, and Angband now feature graphical tiles by default, although they can also be played in the old ASCII-based format.
Where the games differ is in their general philosophy of what dungeon exploration means. While NetHack has lots of strong monsters, it seems to take the view that the dungeon itself is your greatest opponent. The puzzle of figuring out item identities is a larger part of the game, and NetHack offers both more uncertainty in identification and more ways to identify. NetHack has more set locations that offer specific puzzles players must overcome, like finding the Luckstone at the bottom of the Gnomish Mines, or getting past Medusa, or crossing the moat around the Castle; Angband has only one set location, its Town, although there are lots of special areas that can be randomly found within its dungeon levels.
NetHack’s dungeon cannot be exited without giving up the game, for even once you get the Amulet and escape, you’re thrown into an End Game that functions as a coda to your adventure; in Angband, you’ll probably leave the dungeon many times in order to avail yourself of the Town’s useful services. In Angband, this Town offers shops where you can buy and identify items, but the shops are all menus. NetHack’s shops have a physicality, in that they’re rooms in the dungeons, overseen by a Shopkeeper character, which allows players to steal from shops if they can survive the shopkeeper’s eyes and wrath. And, of course, NetHack has its iconic pets that can help you explore the dungeon and provide other services, while in Angband you fight alone.
NetHack’s has a stronger sense of place than Angband, where dungeon levels are much larger but also less distinctive, and anyway are forgotten once you leave a level. If you go downstairs then right back upstairs in Angband, you’ll find a completely different map waiting for you, with new monsters and items. NetHack’s dungeons persist so long as your character survives, and you can go back to a level after a long time and find it’s largely as you left it.
It’s possible to see a kind of rivalry between NetHack and Angband, but I think this is largely an illusion. Both games know what they’re about and are content to pursue it in their own way.
While NetHack has more name recognition, lots of people like Angband! It’s spawned several popular variants all its own. One of them, ZAngband, is basically its own game by now, with a ton of variants and other notable branch-offs.
The Legacy of Moria
While Beneath Apple Manor has many aspects of a roguelike, Rogue is still at the center of the roguelike genre. Rogue inspired Hack, and then, NetHack.
But also, Rogue inspired Moria, and in fact Moria predates Hack by several years. Moria may be the first “roguelike” game, in that it’s not Rogue itself but was clearly inspired by and derived from Rogue. Even the “direct” descendants of Rogue, like URogue and SuperRogue, came along after Moria. If there is another character-based game played on university computing terminals between Rogue’s release and Moria’s, word of it has not come down to me.
Moria was created by (the recently deceased) Richard Koeneke. First written in a dialect of BASIC, then converted to one of Pascal, he left university and, like many other roguelike authors who exited academia, appears never to have worked on their game again. But he opened the game’s source, and some other people ported it to C, and called the new version UMoria. UMoria still exists, and can be downloaded to play locally or via a web browser.
The significance of Moria and UMoria on the history of computer gaming cannot be overstated. Rogue was popular yes, and has inspired a legion of games taking one or more of its aspects and running with them. But there is something fundamental to the core of Moria that has seeped even more deeply into CRPGs. Diablo’s credits mention UMoria as a direct inspiration, but more than that, the basic sense of Moria has become pervasive.
It is easy to forget now that there used to be all freaking kinds of RPGs, and early on games in the genre looked very different from how they look today. dnd and Oublette on PLATO systems have a slightly familiar kind of overhead view, with the walls of the dungeon around you drawn in lines, but monsters don’t exist outside of your immediate interactions with them. Wizardry, what is now weirdly called a “blobber,” has a grid-based world that is experienced in first-person, and this became a very common means of presentation, inspiring… well, all of these are purely from memory: The Bard’s Tale series, the Might & Magic series, Dragon Wars, Dungeon Magic, Eye of the Beholder, Dungeon Hack, Swords & Serpents on the NES, the dungeons of Phantasty Star on the SMS, Arcana over on the SNES, a funky 3D version of the original Bomberman on MSX, and countless other games that presented the mazes without the monsters. Even Strong Bad has wrestled against one of the blobber ilk with his begloved hands. (“Who’s Strong Bad,” asks half of my audience. I know, I’m old.)
In particular, it should be remembered that Dungeons & Dragons, which inspired this whole category, was not a solo game. Despite promises of solitaire play in the 1st Edition AD&D DM’s Guide, you really needed at least two people, a player and a referee, or “DM,” to play; most groups had multiple players, each playing one or more characters. This is still how D&D is most commonly played today. Rogue was one of the games that, by attempting to offer a solo version of the experience, put the emphasis on the solo.
But Rogue has other things going on in it. Its identification game is a work of genius by itself, and the way its systems work together make it special in ways other than just being a D&D simulation. Its descendant Moria, on the other hand, offers a more generalized RPG framework, and that is what has come to suffuse and infect nearly the entire rest of video gaming. What Moria did was generalize the solo fantasy RPG experience. Moria has multiple attack types, like fire, cold, and electricity, and resistances to them, has equipment items with add-on special properties, and has a bunch of generally plain monsters but with colors that identify their properties like they were palette-swapped.
In fact, I do not think I am being hyperbolic when I say that, due to Moria’s influence on Diablo, nearly every game now that features what they call a “loot system,” is actually offering a Moria-style loot system. It is that pervasive. And Angband, as UMoria’s direct descendant, has kept up that system and elaborated upon it for over 30 years now.
Angband started out as mostly a themed version of UMoria. If the name Moria sounds familiar, like you might have heard it in a movie once, that’s because it comes right out of Tolkien. The Mines of Moria* are the dungeons of the game, and that’s why at level 50 the player fights a Balrog, trying to do a better job of it than Gandalf did.
* Off the subject. A fun game to play if you’re of a frame of mind is, when watching the relevant scenes in the movie of The Fellowship of the Ring, to refer to random things as “the Something… of Moria!” You can start from outside with “The Gates of Moria!” Say it like Gimli, with a gruff voice, and it helps if you can rouse yourself to try a Scottish accent. It’s more entertaining if it’s a bad one. Then: The Halls… of Moria! The Goblins… of Moria! The Hasty Retreat… of Moria! The Panicked Screaming… of Moria! I find that one can amuse themselves for quite some time this way.
Well you might have heard that there are other Middle Earth books than The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. One of these, cobbled together by John Ronald Reuel’s son Christopher Tolkien, is The Silmarillion. It’s a big collection of backstories and myths and legends of questionable canonicity.
You might remember that the Mines of Moria were not the final destination of the LotR books, but merely a stop along the way. If you read The Silmarillion, you’ll know that there were once even worse places in Middle Earth than that. One of them was a stronghold of Morgoth, called the pits of Angband.
That’s why you fight Morgoth in the game of Angband, on level 100, and his lieutenant Sauron, the same entity that was the big baddie in The Lord of the Rings, on Level 99. And what’s more, all of Angband is deeply drenched in token Tolkienness. It’s got a bunch of Tolkien monsters, both unique types, from the afore-mentioned end bosses down to Farmer Maggot and his dogs, to representatives of species like goblins, orcs, Ainur, and Maiar. A lot of the items have add-on properties like being a weapon “of Westernesse,” which in game terms means it’s quite good.
Despite how deeply it plumbs the pits, If you approach it as a full adventure in Middle Earth where you can visit the Shire, smoke a pipe with Frodo and hang out with Strider, Angband will disappoint you. It takes the wonder and beauty of The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings series, and the Silmarillion, and uses them as basically a list of monsters and items. Some of the variants that I’ll get to later try to restore a bit of that, but for the most part Angband is a game of tactical combat, map exploration, and loot collection, and anything from the literature that doesn’t fit that purpose is left out. There’s no Land of Mordor, Where the Shadows Lie; no Gondor with its rich history, except where it involves special monsters and items; and no sad departure of the Elves to the West. (Writing about Tolkien involves capitalizing a lot of seemingly random terms.)
It’s not that Angband seeks to balderize Tolkien, but that it just has no place to use those aspects of his work. These are generic fantasy exploration and tactics games that have been given a coat of Tolkien Paint, probably by Tom Bombadil, who has had difficulty finding work lately.
What Angband gets from the Lord of the Rings and its subsidiary books is a rich lore that it can just do with as it pleases. It lends weight to the games. Instead of just making up a bunch of monsters, which often falls flat, it puts on an Elven Cloak and seems richer for it. It’s not just Angband itself; there’s a whole family of Angband variants that work by replacing (or sometimes, just supplementing) the Tolkien stuff with material from some other author, from Roger Zelazny to Anne McCaffery to H.P.Lovecraft to Terry Pratchett.
That makes a good enough introduction! Next time, in a week, we’ll offer some early playing advice, then maybe a timeline of Angband and its versions, and after that will come the Herculean task of looking at some of those many variants. See you soon-adillo!
TotR identifies Moria as the first follow-up game to Rogue. My notes have it popping up three years after the original, which seems like an impossibly long time now for no one to have made a copy, but even Advanced Rogue, which was built off of Rogue code, didn’t see the world until 1984. Moria, by contrast was written from scratch. Moria’s Wikipedia page notes that Koeneke originally wrote it in a form of BASIC, but rewrote it in Pascal, and I think that’s probably the version that first saw distribution.
(A good place to look for the relative appearance times of roguelike games is this page on the Tangaria website. There is also BALROG, which no longer exists on the living web but is preserved on the Wayback Machine, although a link to it currently eludes me.)
Moria was converted to the C language to produce UMoria, which the credits to Blizzard’s Diablo cite as a direct inspiration. A prototype of Diablo was found some time back that was turn-based, and was even closer to the Moria play style. There’s also GMoria, another variant of UMoria.
The object of Moria is to descend into the titular mines and defeat the Balrog that gave Gandalf so much trouble. Some of its many improvements over Rogue include a town level where players can purchase and sell items, more types of equipment including helmets and boots, the need to carry a light source in the dungeon, and levels that could be much larger than one screen in size.
Angband players will find most of this familiar; while it has a much longer dungeon, in structure its apple doesn’t fall far from Moria’s tree. Both Moria and Angband place the game emphasis more on fighting and tactics than Rogue.
Rogue was popular in the culture of university computing, but its source was closed, and what variants it got were built off of leaked code. Moria was the first open source roguelike, which allowed for its conversion to C. This C version was renamed to UMoria. UMoria is the ancestor of mighty Angband, which is one of the most-permuted games ever made, with well over 100 variants, with even more appearing once in a while.
I can’t resist turning this into a parable about the virtues of cooperation and sharing. Because of Rogue’s closed source, its immediate variants are very hard to find now, with only the versions preserved by the Roguelike Preservation Project surviving, and Rogue itself has largely been overshadowed by NetHack and its variants.
They did a similar stream last year in the month of September, but this year they’ve moved it to April in order to space themselves better around the two major NetHack tournaments in June and November.
What is that? You don’t know anything about NetHack? Oh boy, I get to explain it again-it’s a venerable roguelike game that’s been in existence for 34 years! The first version of NetHack is older than the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It began during the presidency of Ronald Reagan! While there have been lulls in its development, and at least one major member of its dev team, Izchak Miller, passed away years ago, it’s still going, and it’s still being worked on. It’s notable for its high difficulty, the large amount of information a player must assimilate to be successful, and for its high degree of fairness (although sometimes it doesn’t seem fair)
NetHack comes across as like a solo adventure in an old school first-edition AD&D megadungeon. It’s full of monsters with weird properties, you have to figure out what your items do, and every game is randomly generated.