Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a bi-weekly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre.]

Nethack has gotten a lot of talk here, and it remains perhaps the most complex roguelike out there due to its profusion of object interactions, but it is by no means the roguelike with the "most to do." That is, the objective of Nethack, although more complicated than the old days where ultimately all you just had to get fire resistance, level teleport down to the Amulet, get it, then climb out, is still relatively straightforward. The game got a lot more complex in version 3.0, and more complex still in 3.1, but in this respect it really hasn't changed too much since Hack.

The roguelike with, by far, the most to do is ADOM (Ancient Domains Of Mystery), which is perhaps the example of the genre that takes the most ideas from the world of other RPGs. Nowhere is this made more evident than when examining the game's complex web of quests. Nethack has four (although one is different for each character class). ADOM has dozens.

Here is a very small sampling, chosen for a mix of ease of observation by beginning players and raw cool factor.

Save a puppy!
The little girl in Teryino, the first town, asks you to save her dog from a nearby cave. The cave doesn't appear on the map until she asks you. The cave always has a good number of ants in it.

aquest2.gifThe "cute dog" must be generated (its level reached in the cave) before fourth game days have passed for it to remain alive, which is a very strict time limit considering that the required overworld travel will necessarily take up some of that time. Because of this, the player has almost no opportunity to advance in level except in transit, making this fairly difficult.

Make the Plains Safe For Adventurers!
The sherrif, Tywat Pare of Teryino, assigns two peacekeeping missions to the player during the game. Kranach and his band of raiders appear as a random overworld encounter near Teryino until you reach experience level 6, meaning that sometimes the player won't be able to complete this one due simply to bad luck. Wilderness encounters also get more difficult over time, and wandering the plains uses up a lot of food, so it's not recommended for beginners. The reward is 3000 gold pieces, which some players will find more interesting than others.

The other involves killing the crime lord Hotzenplotz in the nearby outlaw town Murderberg Lawenilothehl, a task that's either challenging or simple to a character at about that point in the game, depending on whether he has ray attack spells. As in, if you don't know any, then his bouncers will probably bounce you to death. If you do know one, you can beat him and is cronies without taking a hit. What else can be said, except, "Wizards rock?"

Kill the Mad Carpenter! (or cure his madness)
Later in the game the player must cross a piranha-infested lake. There are only two ways across the water, and one of them involves learning the skill of Bridge Building. This means something must be done about Yriggs, who carries the only source of that skill in the game, the Manual of Bridge Building.

The Yriggs quest (which I also mentioned last time, should this sound familiar) is one of the coolest features of ADOM, and it comes early enough that it can be done first if the player wants. After talking with Rynt in Teryino, the player can go down to the dungeon approximately to the south-east and descent to level seven to find him. If killed he drops the objects necessary to build bridges, but, usefully, he can also be saved by purposely running away from him, letting him chase you to Jharod the healer on level four. (Like with many of Nethack's features, there aren't many hints within ADOM that this is possible.) Doing this will satisfy Jharod that you are worthy of learning the extremely valuable Healing skill, increasing your rate of natural hit point restoration.

Like many quests, this is also worth a bit of an Alignment change towards Law, which some players will appreciate, and some find annoying.

aquest3.gifPerform Last Rites for a Dying Sage! (Or....)
ADOM contains multiple dungeons. The "main" one, usually not seen until the player already has a few experience levels, is the Caverns of Chaos. And in this dungeon, some way down, is the endangered sage, Khelavaster.

The opponent philosophy of roguelike games is, in essence, "everyone is a monster." Characters considered NPCs in other RPGs get full stats, and can usually be attacked and killed, in a roguelike game. Usually they will become angered in the process and made hostile. They are controlled by AI just like the dungeon opposition. Khelavaster is an interesting case, however, because unlike the roguelike tradition, he is part of a scripted encounter.

Khelavaster is generated peaceful on the downstairs of his level, surrounded by chaos servants. In ADOM, there is no way to descend dungeon levels without using stairs, so the player will eventually have to get Khelavaster off them to continue with the game. This is typically not a problem, as talking with him (with the chat command, shift-C) will cause him to immediate die and leave his stuff to the player.

This is the story. See, Khelavaster is the sage who originally predicted this chaos stuff would plague the game's fantasy world. He went into the Caverns of Chaos to try to do something about it And Was Never Seen Again. While Khelavaster is not actually fighting the chaos servants, he is "in stasis" on his level, about to die. But he is actually immortal until the player talks to him; he always perishes in the conversation, in dramatic fashion.


While ADOM's treatment of the encounter may not be roguelike normal, there is a very clever thing the player can do concerning him. It requires finding one of the game's more useful items, an amulet of life saving. As with Nethack's item, if worn by the player or a monster it will save his life one time, remedy the fatal condition, then disintegrate. Also like in Nethack, these are not too common to find. Actually they're pretty rare in ADOM, even more so considering that the game is thought to weight item generation according to dungeon difficulty.

If the player can find an amulet of life saving before talking to Khelavaster, then instead of chatting with him, he can give him the amulet, which logically enough will save his life. This is a fairly nifty trick, right up there with curing Yriggs the Carpenter. It makes the stuff gained from the sage much better (somehow), and late in the game enables the player to attempt an "ultra" ending if he wishes.

The problem is that amulet of life saving are quite rare and usually don't appear until later in the game, while Khelavaster is typically found about one-quarter the way down the Caverns of Chaos, fairly early. None are guaranteed to be generated, and even if the player searches all the available dungeons before reaching that point frequently he won't find one. They can be wished for, but wishes are not much more common than the amulets are, and there are plenty of other things that the player might want instead. But then, it isn't called an "ultra" ending for nothing. (And there are worse things the player must accomplish in order to achieve that....)

aquestsi.gifCollect Strange Items!
Ah, the si. For a game that has dozens of artifacts, hundreds of monsters, devious quests, secret features and ultra endings, it's amazing how it's the little things that come to define the game in one's memory.

The si was a relatively early addition to ADOM's equipment list, and despite the fact that it has no real purpose, and doesn't even have much of a logical explanation, it's still there. Probably because were Thomas Biskup to take it out, he'd probably have to fend off a hundred enraged ADOM fans with a stick.

"Si" stands for "strange item," and if you're expecting more of an explanation than that, well, you won't get one, mostly because there isn't one to give.

No one knows what a si looks like. We know the level it's on is filled with a strange smell. We know that the si is a kind of tool. We know it weighs 10 stones. And we know that the si is an artifact, of sorts, despite the fact that the major defining attribute of artifacts, uniqueness, doesn't apply to it.

This is because the si multiplies. So long as one is carried, they will slowly make more of themselves. The means by which this happens is obscure. No message is printed on the screen when it happens. It doesn't seem to happen if it isn't in the player's inventory.

Because they will periodically add an additional 10 stones to your carry weight, careless players will eventually get weighed down by them if they don't notice what's happening and drop some of them. Like artifacts it cannot be destroyed except by special means, but it has little other use, except for generic artifact things: they can be sold for cash, they can be sacrificed to make your god happy with you, and should you need something that's generally indestructible, they more than fit the bill.

Ultimately, what the si is is a whimsy. It's not a reference to anything. It's kinda silly and cool, even though it's not an explicit joke. Like naming the fruit in Rogue, it's just a neat thing that got thrown in just because.

It's good enough for me, anyway.

ADOM Guidebook (the most complete source on the game on the web):