Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Inspiration: Arisilon, Brynthia, Durnin, & Zenon

Retrieve the Ancient Magic Scepter that has been stolen by a tyrant king.  The Scepter is the Power Staff of the Empire and a Kingdom has been offered for its return.  It now lays hidden in the Dark Tower guarded by the tyrant's fierce band of Brigands.  Three magic keys will open the tower to you...

In this very special holiday installment of Thoul's Paradise Inspiration, we harken back to a Christmas years agone; a time when “One push of a keyboard button transports you into a world with fire-spitting dragons, warrior hordes, exotic marketplaces and undreamt-of-treasure!”  I speak of Milton Bradley's memorable board game, Dark Tower – “A Fantasy Adventure Game With The Unique Electronic Tower.”  Although quaint by 21st century standards, the electronic interaction offered by the tower centerpiece was a big deal in 1981.  Priced in the $40-50 range, MB put a good deal of effort in making and marketing the game; they even had Orson Welles shilling it.

In the course of the game, each player attempts to lead a band of warriors against the forces within the eponymous tower.  However, in order to gain access to the tower the player must collect three magic keys:  the brass key (protected by the imps), the silver key (guarded by the gnomes), and the golden key (kept by the faerie-folk).  Mere possession of the keys is not enough; one must also solve the “Ancient Riddle of the Keys” (i.e., the order in which the keys must be used).  So as to obtain their respective sets of keys, each player – represented by a warrior pawn – must travel around the board encountering various events and managing the three 'resources' of warriors, food, and gold.

The tower keeps track of the players' inventories and where the players are in the game (but not their exact position on the board).  On their turns, players would indicate their intentions (e.g., purchase supplies at the bazaar, explore ruins, cross a frontier, retreat from combat, etc.) by pressing appropriate buttons on the tower's 'keyboard.'  The tower would indicate the results by showing pictures, providing numbers on a digital display, and issuing forth electronic sounds (such as a portion of the 1812 Overture when storming the tower and a snippet of Ride of the Valkyries upon winning the game).

Player interaction is limited to afflicting a curse (when one encounters the wizard) and blocking an opponent's movement by placing the dragon pawn (after encountering the dragon).  Otherwise, the players are merely racing to be the first to defeat the denizens of the tower.

It looks like another blog started to adapt Dark Tower to a conventional role-playing setting, but did not get very far.  In essence, Dark Tower is a campaign in a capsulized form, complete with an end goal and roles suitable for player characters:  the leader, a scout, a healer, a wizard, perhaps even a merchant to haggle at the bazaar.

Much of what makes the game especially fun even today is the detail and imagery.  The 'art' of the game, perhaps more than the plot, engenders wonder and inspiration.

First and foremost, the evocative art of Bob Pepper creates a distinct, exotic ambiance.  This site is dedicated to Dark Tower and displays all of Pepper's art for the game as well as his art for the card game Dragonmaster, published contemporaneously by Milton Bradley.  Here is Pepper's depiction of “brigands,” the foes of the players' warriors.

I do not know why MB chose to refer to these thoroughly inhuman opponents as “brigands” rather than hobgoblins or bugbears or some such.

MB provided little plastic buildings and flags for the kingdoms instead of going the easy route and just depict those things on the board.  Instead of using just one mold for the warrior pawns, differentiating them only by color, MB supplied a distinct figurine for each player/kingdom.

L to R:  Arisilonish, Brynthian, Durniner, Zenonite
Another remarkable component of the game is the two-piece board and the fantastic terrain it depicts.  Although the terrain has no effect on gameplay, it engages the player and enhances the experience of the game.  I have endeavored to craft a composite image of the board for the edification of the reader.  I present the humble result of my effort below.

As can be seen, the board primarily shows the kingdoms of Arisilon, Brynthia, Durnin, and Zenon, as well as the frontiers that separate them.  Each kingdom contains equivalent locations:  bazaar, citadel, ruin, tomb, and sanctuary.  The tower, of course, stands at the center, equally accessible from any kingdom.  Each kingdom possesses examples of noteworthy terrain that hint at exciting adventure.

Brynthia:  The enormous plant growth near the tower, the pinnacle next to the bazaar, the chasm above the ruin, and the immense desert near the Arisilonish frontier

Durnin:  the tableland upon which sits the bazaar, the mist enshrouded hills that host the tomb, the outcropping of green crystals near the tower, and the valley of mushrooms

Zenon:  the forest of lightning, the badlands, and the trees that dwarf even the gigantic Brynthian plants

Arisilon:  the huge craters near the tower, the shattered spires near Zenon, and the feature resembling Devils Tower near the sanctuary

In the instruction booklet the accompanies the game, the board is specifically referred to as “the gameboard empire” suggesting at least to me that the four kingdoms are the fractured remnants of an ancient empire.  The scepter gained by the victorious player, “the Power Staff of the Empire,” would seem to be useful in unifying the kingdoms once more.  “[A] Kingdom has been offered for its return.”  Why should the player, a successful leader of warriors, settle for a mere kingdom when he (or she) can take the reins of destiny and create a glorious new empire?

It's More Than a Game, It's an Experience

1 comment:

  1. Love this. Dark Tower really was a bird's eye view of a D&D campaign. I've thought about some sort of mini-campaign that would basically translate the Dark Tower experience into a bigger RPG type thing, with a big central table kind of set up as a 'board' and side tables for crypts, ruins, and battlefields -- the dungeons could be programmed dungeon crawls like the old Heritage Paint & Play games, the large battles and siege would use some variant of that, and the players would have to decide whether to go it alone or team up.