Dungeon Master

I need a new DM.

Source // Moby Games

I've played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. On a couple of occasions, I've been the Dungeon Master in Dungeons & Dragons. Never have I played Dungeon Master though, and you'd have thought that I would at least have come across it, but I don't even think I've done that either.

As you might imagine, Dungeon Master will see you navigate your party through dungeons full of traps and monsters, hopefully leading to success - if not in the form of treasure, then of getting out of the dungeon alive.

First person, real time adventuring that requires as much combat reflexes as it does eagle-eyed exploration.... How will we fare when chucked into the deep end and left to fend for ourselves?


I fired up the SNES port of Dungeon Master, thinking it'd be the easiest to get into. Oh how wrong I was.

You begin the game as some kind of ghost in a room full of portraits. You can't do anything save for checking out these strange warriors and wizards, but select a few of them to resurrect and suddenly you realise that you've been navigating a massive character select screen in dungeon form.

Four party members can be selected from the 24 available, each with their own strengths and starting equipment. That sounds like a lot of choice but you've got to remember that you have to find them on the walls of the dungeon first. You'll then have to either resurrect them on the spot, bringing them into your party, or wander the dungeon a little bit more to see who else you find.

Hopefully you'll have remembered where the last character you liked was, if not their stats to compare, otherwise you'll be wandering this first room for a while - which is handy for getting used to the controls. You have a cursor to select things, both on the menus to the top and side, and in the view window which is your main focus. If you're thinking 'the SNES wasn't really designed for this' then you're right.

I chose some party members, I wandered the halls for a bit, I think I opened a door and then I probably said words to the effect of 'this is too much hassle for me'.

Fun Times

So what was I missing out on? Obviously YouTube was my go-to at this point, where I sat down to watch the professionals play through the game, on a platform that makes sense.

Dungeon Master is heavy on the party management. Each character you pick will have their own inventory to deal with, including armour to wear, weapons to wield and countless numbers of items to stuff into their bags and pouches and whatever other holds they're holding. It really is nothing new to me, or to anybody who has played Dungeons & Dragons, save for the fact that you're managing up to four characters at once, rather than just one.

You won't see your party at any point, but whomever you have designated as the 'lead' will be the character who interacts with the dungeon in front of you, in an intuitive manner - the cursor turns into a hand floating across the screen, and what do hands do? They can pick things up, they can press buttons, they can throw things at other things. Again, there's not a whole lot new to me or anyone who has played an Elder Scrolls title, for example. Whether you see a hand or a crosshair, you're interacting with whatever you're facing towards.

As you navigate through the dungeon, you'll be tasked with many a problem, notably enemy threats. And getting lost. And puzzles. And hunger. Thirst. Inventories getting full. Don't ever say Dungeon Master is simple or shallow, because it isn't. Not at all.

It is such an in depth portrayal of the D&D-like RPG that it gives you multiple ways of achieving your goal. You can pick whichever characters take your fancy, so a party of warriors will be a force to be reckoned with, but a couple of wizards chucking out spells can also work in your favour. And it's not just clicking a button to cast a spell either, but remembering which format to cast the spells in. Fireballs are cast by choosing to combine fire and wind, for example, which are represented with very minimalist icons, such is the limited available space on the screen. And, yes, you've got to think about whether a character has enough Mana to cast spells as well.

It really is like a modern RPG, and I've played plenty of those for hours upon hours. Armed with more knowledge of the game I tried to get into it again, this time on a PC with a reversed engineered fan created port, along with interactive maps by my side to try and keep me facing the right way.

Further Frustrations

They didn't help. I simply cannot get into Dungeon Master. It's like walking into a brick wall, which is ironic because the screenshot above shows half of my party taking damage from running into a wall.

That is perhaps my issue with the game: the view. In any first person game I'm familiar with, you could get so close to that wall that you would be able to marvel at the level of detail given to that metal ring. Walls have gotten closer and closer to us since the mid 1980s, haven't they? Well, the walls in Dungeon Master will damage you from all the way over there. It's almost offensive. I could stick my arm out in front of my face and still not be able to touch that wall from this distance.

So I never got used to the depth of my viewpoint. Nor did I get used to navigating my way anywhere. I just lost all sense of direction, even when following a map. Turn left at the grey wall, after the grey wall that's opposite the grey wall with a door in it. The door, thankfully, is brown, but good luck anyway.

Final Word

To me, Dungeon Master is absolutely tedious. I wouldn't play it for money, let alone love. But watch it? God, that's easy. I'm still watching it as I write. For all I hate about Dungeon Master it still offers plenty for an interested player to sink their teeth into. Not only does it offer plenty, but it offered it all like no other title could manage at the time. It was a case of playing Dungeon Master or waiting for an inferior knock off to come out, it was that good.

I can see how it was - I can see titles today that owe a great deal to the success of Dungeon Master, but I am so glad the formula has been improved upon time after time. There is perhaps some irony in the idea that it really is a big point and click, in the same way Skyrim is essentially a point and click. There is perhaps some more irony in that Dungeon Master probably has less to do in terms of having to learn mechanics than Skyrim. Whatever the case though, I just can't get into Dungeon Master in the same way as I can first person RPGs of today.

Seeing as it's freely available and ported across a variety of platforms, you should check it out yourself. I hope you have more fun with it than I did.

Fun Facts

The artwork for box portrays four of the adventurers you can choose from, Halk, Syra, Alex and Nabi. "Where's Nabi?" you might ask. He's the pile of skulls in the bottom left... Obviously.

Dungeon Master, developed by FTL Games, first released in 1987.
Versions played: SNES, 1993, via emulation.
PC (CBSwin), 2001/2015.
Version watched: PC (RTC), 2008 (Ace O'Thorns)