Game 29: Lords of Karma – Victory!

From CRPG Adventures


Having spent most of my last post on mapping and exploring, I decided it was time to dig into this game and start solving some quests. The most obvious goal was to earn enough karma to enter Heaven, but there were a number of other quests in the game as well. Laying out my goals was helped by the discovery of a book on a mountain top, which purports to hold the wisdom of someone called Maharathi. Continuously reading the book gives a number of hints:

  • CHAPTER I. Putting the Torch to Cobwebs
  • CHAPTER II. I Give a Beggar a Silver Dollar
  • CHAPTER III. A Cooling Egg
  • CHAPTER IV. Secrets Found in a Crystal Ball
  • CHAPTER V. An Idol Destroyed.
This was a pretty good set of quests to go on. In addition, I had been asked to rescue a princess from a knave and return her to the palace.  Tackling all of these took me the better part of an afternoon, which was time I could have better spent watching hard Japanese wrestlers batter the hell out of each other (it’s G1 Climax season once again!). Still, I’ve had worse weekends, and played worse games.
Rescuing the princess turned out to be not difficult at all. Her and the knave are always found somewhere in the Oak Forest to the west of the city of Golconda. The last time I tried to fight him he killed me, but this time I battered him to death with a lit torch. Combat is very swingy in this game; you can kill a Troll with your bare hands, then lose a fight to a bat when armed with a sword. It’s very much just a case of luck, though it seems that the knave is one of the game’s weaker enemies.
The princess then started following me, demanding to be returned to the palace. I returned her to her father, who rewarded me with a diamond before taking his daughter on a vacation. From that point on I was able to enter the palace without fear of being thrown in the dungeons, although there’s not really much reason to do so.
Reuniting the royal family.
It was time to get to the clues in the book, and I started with the beggar. The silver dollar is usually found somewhere in the Oak Forest to the east of Golconda (the locations of items and creatures is randomised, although they usually pop up in the same general area). The beggar is easy to find as well, as he’s always on the road either north or south of the city. I gave him the dollar and he rewarded me with a lamp that never runs out. This game involves a fair bit of stumbling around in the dark, so it comes in handy.
The next easiest clue to solve was the one about torching cobwebs. I’d found some cobwebs in the Cyprus Swamp, so I went there armed with a lit torch and tried to burn them. None of the commands I tried worked, so I explored a bit and was soon attacked by a giant spider. The spider kept firing webs at me, but with my torch I was able to burn them away and thus avoid being killed. Eventually I struck a killing blow, although it was a long, laborious process of typing KILL over and over again. Searching the swamp afterwards I found a sword, which soon became my primary weapon.
I had no idea about the egg, but after an hour of fruitless exploring, monster killing, and treasure-finding, I decided to try talking to everyone I met. Most of them just attack, but I was quite pleased to note that every creature I tried to talk to had some sort of response.  Success came when I talked to the giant who lives in the Redwood Forest to the south-west. He told me that humans aren’t welcome in his forest, but I could win his trust by bringing him a sapling.
I’d found a sapling in the swamp during an earlier game, so I wandered around (and killed a crocodile) until I found it again. The sapling is heavy, so I had to drop everything from my inventory to even move. Then I couldn’t get back out of the swamp the way I came, because the sapling was too big to fit through a crack in a wall. I was forced to find another path east and north of Golconda, but I was eventually able to circle around and take the sapling to the giant.
I hope those are some REALLY big leaves.
He rewarded me with an egg. I suspect there’s a way to hatch it, but I never did figure it out. The “cooling egg” in the clue had me trying to light it on fire, which I couldn’t get to work. So I’m not convinced that I solved everything here, but finding the egg is good enough for me to consider the third clue dealt with.
The other two clues took quite a bit longer to deal with, because they both involve exploring underground. There are a number of underground areas in the game: the sewers beneath Golconda, the tunnels under the mountains, more tunnels accessed through holes in the swamp. The most extensive of these seems to be the caves under the southern Promontory. It’s hard to tell, because there are secret doors all over these areas. Sometimes they appear when you LOOK, and other times they don’t, so fully exploring these places is a matter of luck and patience. I’m still not sure I got everything.
There are monsters underground, and all of them can kill you: the worm and the vampire bat are the weakest. There’s an axe-wielding goblin, a mace-wielding troll, and a shimmering wizard who will happily roast you with a fireball from his staff when he sees you. The idol mentioned in the clues is also underground, in the caves below the Promontory, past a maze of stalactites and stalagmites. The troll always guards the areas leading up to it, and he can be tough to kill even when you’re well-armed.
The idol is dedicated to Baal, and when you examine it you’re asked to make an offering. I knew it would be a bad idea, but I had to try it at least once.
Whoever the god of this world is, he punishes you worse for this than for murder.
Yes, I got blasted for idolatry and took a massive karma hit. Needless to say, I restarted.
With idol located I needed a way to destroy it. I had earlier found a bomb lying in the Aspen Forest to the north-west, and I figured this was the way to do it. Sure enough, I took the bomb to the idol, lit a match, lit the fuse, and moved away. The bomb exploded, reducing the idol to rubble, and I got a big karma boost. (What I didn’t get was a screen shot, because my torch had run out while I was waiting for the bomb to go off.)
My final goal was obtaining the crystal ball, which I knew was being held by a friendly wizard who roams about the wilderness. When you talk to him, he asks you to bring him the staff of the shimmering wizard. Which I then tried to do. Many, many, many times. That guy is tough.  In the end I resorted to praying at the temple, which sometimes results in you grabbing a torch and wandering into the underground tunnels, and is probably the quickest way of finding the wizard. So I just kept on praying, fighting him when I found him, and returning to pray after he killed me. It probably took me thirty tries to beat him (with a lot of fruitless underground journeys when praying sent me to the wrong area).  When I took his staff to the good wizard, he rewarded me with the crystal ball, which I discovered could be used to see secret doors. I considered using it to map out the whole game accurately, but even I have my limits (I would have totally done it if this was an RPG though).
Say “appear” one more time…
Last of all, it was time to earn enough karma to make my way into heaven. If I’m being honest though, I accomplished this one way before destroying the idol and obtaining the crystal ball. The number of points required to ascend to heaven is randomised with every game; in some games I’ve ascended with only 24 points, and in others it’s taken me over 300. So as you can see, the game can vary greatly in difficulty.
There are three ways to earn karma: solving quests, donating treasure, and killing monsters. The first of these I’ve covered pretty comprehensively above.  Donating treasure simply involves taking any treasure you’ve found to the temple and using the DONATE or GIVE command. A sign tells you that “contributions will be gratefully accepted”, so it’s not all that obscure, but it did take me a few tries to hit on the right command. Despite this game’s premise supposedly being to do good deeds, it still ultimately boils down to finding treasures and returning them to a single location. We haven’t escaped the influence of Colossal Cave Adventure just yet.
Killing monsters is a little more interesting, because doing so can earn you karma as well as lose it. I think it has something to do with the weapon you’re using.  When you examine a weapon it tells you where it was made. Some are forged in Valhalla, some in Hades, and some are made by “Knave Armaments, Inc.”  I’m pretty sure that you get points when using weapons from Valhalla, and lose them when using weapons from Hades. I found a ring from Hades that shot lightning bolts, and while it was powerful I lost karma every time I used it.  As for the Knave Armaments weapons, I’m not sure, but I think you lose karma from those as well. I just tried to test it and got killed by a vampire bat, so it’ll have to remain a mystery.  Oh, and of course killing friendly characters always loses you karma.
So I amassed a couple hundred karma, went to the temple, prayed, and got the following victory screen.
After this it dumped me to the OS prompt, so I guess heaven is using a TRS-80 you guys.
So that’s Lords of Karma done, dusted, and off the books. After a couple of games that I feel like I didn’t properly beat, it’s a relief to notch up another win. All that’s left is a quick Final Rating and I can move on to something else.
FINAL RATING

Story & Setting: The set-up for Lords of Karma promised more than the usual late-70s adventure fare, but in the end it wasn’t much more than another treasure hunt. It perhaps deserves some props for being one of the first game adventure games that has a number of sub-quests, and multiple paths to victory. It’s possible to win without donating any treasure at all, by completing the quests instead. The setting doesn’t have a lot of personality, and I’m tempted to dock it for mixing mythologies with Hades and Valhalla. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: The characters are simple quest-givers, but they do all respond when spoken to, and have a minimal amount of personality. The selection of monsters is decent, although combat is too random to differentiate them all that much. It’s a slight cut above the other adventure games available on home computers at the time in this regard, though. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: As with so many of its kind, it’s a text adventure with very sparse descriptions. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: The parser is very simple (I doubt it knows more than about a dozen commands), but it gets the job done. Once you know how to GET, DROP, GIVE, TALK, PRAY, LIGHT and KILL you’re pretty much good to go, and the games does what it’s supposed to do. Combat is very random though, and there are no tactics that can mitigate this swinginess. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: In terms of puzzle solving this game has very little in the way of difficulty, and gives a decent amount of hints as to what you need to do. Earning karma is also not that hard, especially once you know how to avoid losing it. The game even resurrects you when you die, with no loss of karma at all. The most challenging thing is combat, but even that’s a minor setback in terms of the goal of ascending to heaven. It’s probably about the right amount of challenge for the size of the game, if not a little too easy. The randomisation gives it some small replay value, though. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: It doesn’t seem as though this game had much of an impact, but it does feature some minor innovations. It might be the first adventure game to explicitly have “doing good” as a goal, and it might also be the first to feature elements of Eastern philosophy and religion (albeit in a minor way). Rating: 3 out of 7.

Fun: I only had three sessions on this game, perhaps five hours in total, but I found myself enjoying it while it lasted. There’s just enough to see and do in the game to make it worth exploring for a short while, although the combat can be very frustrating. Rating: 2 out of 7.

No bonus point for Lords of Karma; I doubt I’ll revisit it.  The above scores add up to 17, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 34. That puts it equal 14th overall, and 8th on the chart for adventure games. That’s right in the middle, equal with Pirate Adventure, and among the highest-rated adventure games for home computers.
NEXT: It looks like I have tracked down a copy of Quest after all, so I’ll be looking at that if I can get it to work. If not, it’s either Swords & Sorcery (a minor PLATO RPG) or Daniel Lawrence’s DND (which I doubt I’ll be able to get running but you never know). The end of 1978 is finally in sight!


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