Monday, August 2, 2021

Dragon's Lair is a pretty cool dungeon

Dragon's Lair was an arcade game which made use of full cartoon animation where the player was required to make inputs at the right time to overcome multiple obstacles. It's most notable for being a classic arcade game that doesn't use pixel graphics, having art and animation by Don Bluth, and being very fantasy inspired. I'm assuming this game had quite a bit of D&D inspiration, considering that it came out in 1983, but that was a decade before I was even born, so who knows.

The game itself is a bit of an obscure relic, but since its basically just a cartoon with button prompts you can watch the whole thing on Youtube. Watching it now, you can still enjoy the charming animations and all the death scenes, which are pretty fun. (There's a lot).

However, why am I telling you this? Because the actual dungeon presenting in Dragons' Lair is pretty cool. I decided to stat it up a bit.

Purple Eyestalk Water Monster
(3 HD, +3 to hit, constriction)
This monsters lives in water, and attacks prey above. It sees through green eyeballs at the end of each of its many eyestalks- which double as its tentacles. It doesn't attack except through dragging prey underwater. For each "hit", count it as having wrapped a tentacle around you, which gives you a -1 to your Strength modifier for all rolls or challenges to break free.

Drink Me
The infamous magic potion. It doesn't do anything cool like shrink you down, Dirk just like flashes green when he drinks it and explodes into dust. Kinda lame. Still- cursed magic potion, drink it is an instant death. Perhaps you could interpret the sign as a sort of magical persuasion- save to avoid drinking the deathly potion.

Snake (
Stats as Giant Snake)
While generic giant snakes are nothing new, I would like to say I like the coloration here. They seem to be a combination of the very venomous coral snake (red touch yellow) and the nonvenemous scarlet king snake (red touch black) based on its coloration; but they only kill Dirk by constriction in the death scene. I also like how they come out of the bricks to attack; that's a fun combat element to spice up an otherwise unremarkable encounter.

Slime Claptrap
(2+1 HD, Big-Bite at 1d8, trapping tongue, surprise)
This creature can appear from slime or ooze that is spilled or found in a random room or area. As such, it's body is very misleading. The claptrap opens its mouth very wide when it appears, also making it hard to tell exactly if something is about to attack you when it does appear. For both these reasons, you must roll for surprise whenever you encounter it.

The claptrap's mouth is very big and can slam down with great force; but it's slow. You can step away or attack its body before it can slam shut. In order to help it trap prey, it has a prehensile, sticky tongue that requires a save to avoid- if the tongue hits you you can't move back and must attack or be eaten by the creature. But because this creature is made of slime, it can be broken apart in a single strong attack; any blow that deals 6 damage or more knocks the creature back into slime.

Big Yellow Smoke-Electric Monster
(3 HD, +2 To-Hit, casts Shocking Grasp to attack, smoke)
This monster is made of smoke and seems electrically charged. It attacks by using Shocking Grasp, which is an at-will ability it possesses. Technically Dirk kills this in a single hit, but he does that for everything and when he "defeats" it in Dragon's Lair it actually just shoves it back into the cauldron it came from with the heavy metal lid back on; perhaps this monster is quite a bit tougher but can be locked away back in its cauldron by covering it. Good puzzle-monster.

I don't want to try to create stats or anything for these, since there are a lot of them. Some interesting ideas here though- the castle crumbles behind Dirk as he explores. Now in an actual game, exploring a dungeon that is slowly falling apart is a fun idea, but probably should be on the timescale or days, or at the very least hours, as to give the party plenty of time to react and send out expeditions.

One example in particular I do like from Dragon's Lair is the boat section, which includes "Ye Boulders, Ye Rapids, and Ye Whirlpools". I like the idea of a boat or paddling based saving throw you might have to make in a game, probably just a generic saving throw by modified by Strength. I think this is fun because the vast majority of "movement" related checks or evasion is based on Dexteirty, but in this case it's how hard you can paddle.

Giant Balls
This trap are several large perpetual motion machines along a long U shaped corridor. When someone enters one side, they will be chased by a giant black ball. The balls have to be run past at the right time, but fast enough to avoid getting crushed by the giant black ball. This would probably be a simple saving throw, or a dexterity challenge. Perhaps any character could accomplish it- unless if they're over encumbered. I'd say getting crushed by the giant ball is a sure death, but these small balls just deal significant damage but knock you to the floor which makes it harder to escape from the large ball.

Spinning Sticks + Spike-Pit Trap
These are pretty simple. Just sticks that spin around and knock you into pit traps. In Dragon's Lair its a matter of timing, I like to think that in a tabletop game you could replicate this by giving the player a choice- they can rush through and get a hard save, wait a round to watch the pattern and get an easier save, or wait 2 turns and/or be unencumbered to not have to save at all. Having them be pelted by ranged enemies and spells during this time would make it much more interesting. If you fall in you'd probably just die as by OSR styling, or take like 4d6 or something big like that.

Much more interesting then the trap itself is the enemy at the end of it.

Red Death
(4+2 HD, +2 To-Hit & AC, Undead, Scythe of Disintegration 1d8+2, Flying, Enchanted)
The Red Death is a wraith. While it is clearly a ghostly spirit it isn't ethereal (because Dirk can hit it with his normal sword), but it's floating around and stuff, so I'd say its "body" is probably its signature red cloak.

Also, this creature uses a magic Scythe that destroys Dirk in one hit. Dirk dies to everything in one hit in this game, so I'd imagine is probably first level and has 1 Hit Point (unlucky roll on his first hit die, probably!) I'd say this Scythe is a minor +2 magic weapon; capable of killing any creature it hits in a single hit if that creature has 2 HD or less; otherwise, it just deals 1d8+2 damage. Additionally, when this creature is slain, it advances the Black Briars enchantment one stage.

Black Briars
It's not easy to tell if these are related to the Red Death creature in some way, or perhaps just a dungeon trap or hazard. I like to think that the Red Death is its own entity but has been enchanted in some way to control the black briars that make up the pits in its chamber.

When Dirk enters they appear simply as spike pits, but once he crosses the gap from the spinning sticks they start to close in behind him. I like to think this is some kind of enchantment spell that is somehow combined with or controlled by the Red Death. Perhaps the dungeon's creator wanted the black briars as a pit trap as they are inescapable once you fall in, coiling around anyone who touches them, but if not controlled they would quickly spread through the whole dungeon and try to strangle everything.

The Black Briars become more animate and aggressive the longer a victim is around them. They start at the first stage and advance one stage every combat round, unless a creature nearby is containing them. Slaying the creature releases the control.

First Stage: The Briars are dormant.
Second Stage: Briars move lazily towards any living thing. Can be jumped over or slashed, but you must make a save to do so during combat.
Third Stage: The Briars gain some amount of intelligence and will move to cut off escape routes. They move faster, you must now sacrifice a turn to avoid.
Fourth Stage: The Briars now make attacks every round, at +1, counting as magic. On a hit, you are entangled and are slowly squeezed and fed upon; 2d6 damage per round until death.

Enchanted Workshop
The workshop is enchanted and has several animate objects (weapons, anvil, statue) that attack Dirk. Not really much to say here- except for the glowing green fire. At a certain point, Dirk goes to it and puts his sword in it, gaining a flaming sword for a short fight with the animate statue. I like the idea of immersing mundane weapons in dungeon elements like this to make them magical or gain an extra power for an attack/few rounds/turns. Also the fire square on the ground is cool too, preventing you from moving, but not much to say about it either.

Whirlwind Room
You're introduced to this room by a whirlwind, which sucks you inside of it. Then within the room, there is a tornado inside with random objects. There isn't many mechanics, here, the only noticeable thing here is the glowing diamond which is a trap. Perhaps the diamond itself is a cursed item that creates the wind.

Stone of Storms - Cursed Treasure
This large gemstone is worth a fortune- at least 30,000c to a standard buyer, and closer to 40,000c for a wise man who recognizes its unique properties. However, it is cursed and there is significant risk to acquiring the gemstone.

The gemstone creates storms around itself, controlling the element of air. Air-based magical spells fail around it and gas or dust is blown apart easily. These storms become more dangerous the larger an area the gem is exposed to- if left outside it will quickly create an endless tornado, with itself in the center of its eye, rooted to one spot. Indoors, or in a bag or chest, the air only swirls around mildly- but even in a small room it causes objects to fly and tumble around. In a room with furniture or weapons, save or be struck by the flying objects. Your movement is halved.

The gem within this dungeon is particular is set in a trap- the recess it is set in has an opening in the floor that will fling whoever tries to reach for it out into a great pit, falling to their death. Similar tricks can be used by those who wish to keep the gemstone from thieves.

Flying Steed
The Flying Steed is a magitech construct of a horse. It levitates through the air once activated. It is not alive and therefore cannot be killed; stats as a warhorse but can only be stropped by true destruction. It can also fly and is very fast, never tires out or drops a rider out of fear, etc.

However, it is also extremely hard to control, bucking and flying wildly through the air. At the speed it travels, it can easily dash its rider against a wall or even the ground. Only a Cavalier of 6th level or higher, or a Fighter of 9th level, can control the horse enough to slow it down, dismount normally, etc. Otherwise its practical a rocket.

If you're riding the steed and are unable to control it, you are safe in a straight line. Make a saving throw to avoid smashing into something if you need to turn, stop, or get off the horse. On failure, you are flung at breakneck speeds and are killed or take serious injury; depending on where you crash.

Cool Electric Black-Knight Dude
(3 HD, +4 AC, +2 To-Hit, 1d6+1 Magic Sword, Electric Hazards at a range)
This guy fucks. By stabbing the ground, he can create electric fields that move away from him slowly. These fields deal 2d6 lightning damage to anyone who steps on them, but can be avoided by careful and slow movement. For each round you move towards him, you must either move at 1/3rd of your normal speed or make a save to run without getting shocked. If your character has -1 Agility modifier or worse, you cannot make the jumps required to accomplish this.

Various Undeads
There are several varieties of undead that inhabit this place; from tiny giggling skulls to huge skeletal hands to invisible wraiths that appear before attacking. All of them can be harmed by Dirks sword so we assume they are all some manner of corporeal undead. Isn't much to say for these; other then the skull shape. It could just be artistic license, but the protruding jaws of the skulls give a distinctly monkey-ish impression, as though these are the remnants of some other alien fantasy race that once lived or built the ruins atop the Dragon's Lair.

However I want to make special attention to these wraiths. Their method of killing Dirk in this scene is grabbing him and burying him alive in one of the heavy stone sarcophagi around the room- quite brutal.

Bat Lord
(1+2 HD, +1 To-Hit, 1d4+1 bite, bat swarm)
Seemingly connected to or in control of a swarm of bats that try to knock Dirk into pits, this roughly man-sized creature has a loud roar. It may also be a vampire bate, given how it wraps Dirk up while biting him for its death scene.

Magnetic Urn
While not a literal creature, the magnetic urn seems to be a magical or cursed item that inhabits this dungeon. It is filled with golden coins and runs away from the hero- but it also magnetically attracts his sword to it, leaving him briefly defenseless. Interestingly, it isn't clear if the urn itself is magnetic and that explains how it flies around, or if its magnetic ability is an additional thing that helps it disarm invaders to the dungeon.

For this; if you try to make an attack roll while it is adjacent to you with any ferrous metallic weapon (most metal weapons), then make a save or it slips from your hand. Even if you succeed the save, you'll still miss your attack from the strong attractive force.

Lizard King
(2+1 HD, -1 To-Hit, +1 AC, 1d6 Scepter Attack)
It's interesting that a creature like this got so much screentime- he doesn't have any magic or special abilities, or is really that threatening to an adventurer, but yet you have to avoid him for a long time while Dirk doesn't have his sword; and he attacks merely by slamming his scepter at you, while giggling. I like his design quite a bit. I also found that picture by searching online his name, instead of just taking a picture from a youtube longplay like I did for the rest of these. It's quite a nice piece.

Even though Dragon's Lair is just a QTE movie-game, Dirk fills up his little backpack with gold from that magnetic urn after beating the Lizard King, which feels like a very OSR/DnD thing to do. I could almost see it as a checkpoint or time when the hero could leave the dungeon with his mission unaccomplished in case he was too wounded or out of torches and the like to keep exploring. It feels very similar to defeating an important monster in a dungeon and then looting their lair afterwards.

Magnetic Crystal Ball

Yet another magnetic & electrical trap. This time, it has the strength to drag in both Dirk's helmet and sword, and begins to fill the room with electrical energy; moving as a zone on the ground that fills up the room. The eye on the top of the throne also fires out electrical energy, perhaps as a method to finish off anyone who just flies over the zone on the floor. I also really like the aesthetics of this room; I'd pay for an animation cel of that background by itself.

For this hazard; a simply saving throw is needed to avoid the trap, with the eye performing an attack roll at +2 against anything that simply levitates over the floor.

Magma Hulks
(Stats as Troll- Immune to Fire but no regeneration)
These large creatures are born from the primordial lava and bubbling underground sludge deep underneath the castle dungeon. They are born in an environment filled with fire, so are immune to it, and are big and strong. I'd stat them as slightly modified trolls to keep it simple.

Black Knight
(6 HD, +6 AC, +4 To-Hit, 1d6+1 Magic Sword, some spells)
This black knight is a powerful warrior and combatant and also appears to be able to cast some magical spells as well. He seals up Dirk's sword at the beginning of his fight, indicating this magical ability. If you were into more modern D&D edition, I would even argue this guy has Cackle- making his curse last longer each combat round with a laugh as he rides in.

Dragon's Lair
You're in the home stretch. This is the Dragon's Lair itself. It's a large cavernous room with treasure everywhere; the treasure itself is the only real threat here- as if it cascades and makes noise it will wake up the dragon. This is also where the Princess is held; potentially any captive or important NPC could be held there, but in this game it's Princess Daphne. This sphere is inescapable and requires a key to be unlocked. This is also the location of a Magic Sword.

Magic Sword

This is a generic magic sword. It doesn't shoot energy blasts or anything but seems very strong and good at slaying dragons. It can also absorb fire breath- perhaps the sword grants protection against fire or just breath weapons/magic blasts in general.

For stats, I'd make it a +2 Magic Sword- deals 1d8+2 damage and can absorb breath weapons.

(8 HD, +8 To-Hit, +8 AC, Fire Breath)
I like him. Singe is a fairly generic dragon. He's a bit on the small side, but fitting for this type of setting, very oldschool in design. It's hard to pin down exactly how strong he SHOULD be, since he is killed in one hit (as with anything in this game), but kills you with one hit too. You actually spend more time fighting the lizard king dude then the dragon at the end of Dragon's Lair. While more intelligent then an animal, he doesn't seem to talk or cast spells, seeming to be more of an uncannily intelligent predator-type of dragon. His breath weapon is fire and he doesn't have wings so he can't fly.

Anyway, that's the whole game. This took a while to make and was a bit sloppy, but I found it fun to stat up this old cheesy cartoon.

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