Murdac: The Land of Heroes   4 comments

I have finished the game. If you’ve arrived here from elsewhere you should read my posts about Murdac in order.

Title screen from the Amstrad version of the game.

Continued directly from last time, I was on an island with “cannibals” in the process of preparing fresh missionary.

There were three problems

a.) getting captured by the people

b.) finding a secret spot on the island with treasure (I didn’t know about this at the time)

c.) getting back from the island

For c.), while the ribbon works for parting the seas while done from the beach, it does not work for the way back. I tried various ways to “increase the power” of the ribbon or stall, even trying to pin it to a pigeon and have it walk around wearing the ribbon, having it wave in the breeze. I wasn’t having any luck so I figured I needed to be solving elsewhere first.

It was around this time the author of game, Dr. Partington, asked if I had solved the tombstone puzzle yet, hinting it was self-contained. This is a bit like if you were playing Robotron: 2084 and Eugene Jarvis starts giving you advice; you have to try, right?

I did have the tombstone on my list as a thing to check, because it is one of the items with random generation. It isn’t even generated on a fresh game; it gets generated on reading the tombstone! So you can save, READ, restore one step before reading, READ again, and find completely different text. After the text is read it stays fixed in state. Schrödinger’s tombstone.

I kept restarting a bunch of time and read the tombstone each time. The pattern is: first a name, either GURON, SCAPHIO, PHANTIS, GAMA, or ARAC. Then a “biography” from four choices:


Some samples:

You are at an old, untended grave. The tombstone is worn but you can make out some of the writing on it. There are paths to the east and north.
> read
The stone is worn but you can just make out the name “GURON”
and the words “… PIONEER … SIGN LANGUAGE …”
The stone is worn but you can just make out the name “GURON”
and the words “… SUSPECTED … WEREWOLF …”
The stone is worn but you can just make out the name “SCAPHIO”
and the words “… SUSPECTED … WEREWOLF …”

The save game I was using for my main story had “GAMA” and “WEREWOLF”.

The fact the names and “professions” were mixed and matched meant they couldn’t be linked with some sort of tight wordplay. This is genuinely one of the hardest puzzles in the game, and I didn’t solve it myself; rather, the insightful Matt W. mentioned HOWL being an understood verb in the game, which is so wildly unusual it can’t be a coincidence. He had tried HOWL GAMA but to no effect. (SING and WHISPER and SIGN all also work as verbs for the other professions.)

The HOWL GAMA is right, but it needs to be done at the lake close by. I didn’t find this my random testing; rather, I was fully aware the number of places remaining that were “unused” was starting to get rather short, and the lake was close by to test.

O.K. “gama!”
The waters in the centre of the lake part and a hand and arm appear, grasping a gleaming sword (surprisingly, not at all rusty!) The Lady of the Lake, if that is who it is, flings the sword towards you so that it lands at your feet. The hand then disappears, and the waters regain their calm.
There is a gleaming sword here, whose mighty blade bears the proud name of Greydeath!

Sword in hand, I tried figuring out where to use it. You can’t use it to kill monsters. In fact, all the monsters are protected by guardian angels and so forth:

> kill centaur
A humanoid character with large white wings appears in the room, claiming to be the Guardian Angel of the centaur. Whether he is or not, he strikes you dead with a single blow.

(Another data point for my History of Nonviolence post. Puzzle gameplay just doesn’t lend itself to straight combat like CRPGs do.)

I still had the island open, so I tested it over there. Wandering the perimeter, I found a treasure:

Suddenly the sword Greydeath twitches violently in your hands.
You are at the western tip of Cannibal Island.
> dig
You dig in the sand and unearth a scorpion. Just as it is about to sting you, you slice it into pieces with Greydeath. The fragments vanish into thin air.
Digging further, you discover a large hoard of pieces of Eight!
You are at the western tip of Cannibal Island.
There is a hoard of pieces of Eight here!

Well, that solves a problem, just one that was hidden, not either of the two I knew I had. However, I was inspired to keep testing things out with the missionary in the cauldron, and figured maybe an item use doubled-up elsewhere. The beads worked to calm the lion, maybe they’ll have a good effect here?

> wave beads
The cannibals are so attracted by the beads that they leave off their culinary activities, take the beads from you, and begin to play with them. The missionary takes the opportunity to leap from the cauldron, and with a breathless “Thank you, my son!” thrusts a book into your hand, and runs off.
Examining his gift you see that it is in fact a Gutenburg bible!

This incidentally does mean if you solve this before the lion puzzle the game is now softlocked.

I tried a number of stunts to get back on land, but no dice. I was running short on puzzles to solve, but I went back to my issues: a magic word on the floor hidden under some millet (that didn’t work), a centaur guarding a tunnel, a pigeon that I could carry but didn’t seem to be helpful anywhere, and a goblin chained in a dungeon.

I worked out the centaur first, going by “let’s try double-use of an item again”. In this case, taking the shawm which had busted a wall and trying it on the centaur.

The north-south passage comes to what appears to be a sentry-post to your north.
There is a large centaur here on guard duty.
> blow shawm
The hideous sound is too much for the sensitive ears of the centaur.
It runs (gallops?) away without further ado.
> n
You are at Centaur Point, a small area looking something like a cross between a stable and an office.
There is a flask of expensive French perfume here!

Is “sensitive ears on a centaur” from some sort of particular mythology, or just this game?

Now, the pigeon and the millet. You might be reading it wondering why I hadn’t put them together. Well, I had.

> drop pigeon
> drop millet
> look
You are in a north-south passage, with side passages to the southeast and west.
There is a pigeon waddling about here.
There is a pile of millet on the ground here.
> get millet
> feed pigeon
The pigeon doesn’t seem to want anything you’ve got.

No, this is something more like Phoenix-game logic but not real-life logic. It is a sort of logic and the result occurred to me before testing out the action.

You are in the Astrologer’s Sanctum – a well-made chamber whose walls are decorated with numerous cabalistic symbols. The only exit is by an archway to the north.
There is a pile of millet on the ground here.
> get millet
As you gather the millet together you uncover a word inscribed
on the floor.
> read
On the floor the word A K Y G G A N E G V R I S H W is inscribed.

Namely, the realization struck me that maybe picking up the millet softlocks the game. You can’t drop it to cover the letters again; maybe the fact the letters are separated and covered is a very important condition of having the pigeon do something important, even though the pigeon ignores the millet in all other circumstances.

> drop pigeon
The pigeon pecks at some of the millet, exposing a word on the floor. OK.
> read
The letters K N E V I S H are exposed where the millet has been pecked away.
> knevish
There is a sudden CRACK in the fabric of space-time as an object appears in the room from thin air.

There is a finely carved ivory statuette here!

Again: there is a sort of logic here. The pigeon serves not so much as a real pigeon but a magical vessel, so the inexplicable lack of attention to the food in other circumstances is just because it is not fulfilling the magic.

I enjoyed solving it and felt satisfied but I’ve also played every Phoenix game up to Murdac in chronological order. I can see why someone in normal circumstances would get very frustrated.

Mental standpoint might also help a little. I usually play adventure games as if I am a storyteller trying to arrange the right pieces together to cause things to happen, like the recent game Storyteller. I rarely feel like the avatar is “me”, as in an embodiment of my consciousness, nor do I have an immersive sense where I feel jarred because of having to restore a saved game for the umpteenth time. I am, at closest, like an actor playing a part. Who was the protagonist of Myst? I don’t know, but I never thought it was “me”.

Returning to the puzzles in progress, I still had a goblin to deal with, but I was also very low on items I hadn’t used yet. They included a wax dummy, and I had already discovered (via STAB being a verb on my list) that I could poke with a diamond pin (that had been in the lion’s paw). Since I was out of places to use it:

You are in the deepest and dankest dungeon. Steps lead up.
There is a nasty little goblin chained to the wall here.
> stab dummy
The goblin gives a yelp of pain. “Don’t torment me! I’ll tell you how to get back from the far west! The word is EXODUS.”

Again random: AARON is possible, but I haven’t run through all the choices.

> say exodus
O.K. “exodus!”
The waves part again, revealing a path back to the beach.
> e
You are on an east-west causeway, the waters towering high above you.
> e
You are in the cove at the head of the causeway.
> n

This was nearly the last piece I needed for victory. I was able to leave the island with the treasures (Piece of Eight, Bible) and gather all of them at once:

There is a pile of amethysts here!
There is an antique shawm here!
There is a gleaming sword here, whose mighty blade bears the proud name of Greydeath!
There is an ornately fashioned bowl of solid gold here!
There is a quantity of precious myrrh here!
There is a priceless (and almost certainly unique) stuffed dodo here!
There is a flask of expensive French perfume here!
There is a finely carved ivory statuette here!
There is a gleaming toadstone here!
There is an ingot of Erbium here!
There is a baboon here, made of solid silver!
There is a pile of sparkling peridots here!
There is a diamond tiepin here!
There is a hoard of pieces of Eight here!
There is a Gutenburg bible here!

Then I took them over in a few loads over to the Keeper of Murdac:

The passage widens into a vast chamber which is full of soldiers some armed with long bows, others with halberds, maces or swords. Their lord is a venerable man who is sitting in a very expensively upholstered armchair.

“Greetings!” says the old man. “I am the Keeper of Murdac. Leave your possessions here with me and they will be safe until you return in triumph. You may take the lamp if it is needed on your quest.”
You are in the keep.
> drop all
You dropped 7 objects.

Etc. repeat, until all treasures were deposited.

“Congratulations” says the Keeper. “You are now ready to join the companionship of Murdac. But there is still one thing you must now do.” He hesitates, then asks:
“What object will you take with you on your journey?”

This is the final puzzle. You pick one object and get teleported somewhere where you use it appropriately. Try it yourself, and use your intuition: out of all the objects in the game, which would be the best?

A picture to pause with while you think. Disk for Murdac, from Acorn Electron World. I find it interesting the copyright is 1983 (when Hamil got published) even though it didn’t go commercial until later.

I started with the lamp, thinking perhaps I’d get dropped into a dark maze of some sort. If anything, it was the old reliable.

You are on a tiny island, far to the west of Cannibal Island.

OK, maybe not a lamp. Perhaps the ribbon? (By the way, I found reading a walkthrough later — huzzah, I got to check a walkthrough after beating a Phoenix game — that the scroll and staff are both possible for parting the sea, it is just random based on the vision you see.)

You are on the banks of the river of Death. Invisible forces prevent you from leaving.

Hmm, random location drops. Interesting! Given that angle, I decided to think: “which item feels like it has the most heft, the most importance?” Surely the sword, which has a name? Rather than editing things down I’ll give the rest of the transcript after typing SWORD, including some flailing, even though I immediately suspected what was needed:

Darkness descends on the keep. There are sounds the like of which no other man could hear and still retain his sanity.
Suddenly light returns and you see that…
You are by the lake once more. Dense foliage blocks you in all other directions.
> wave sword
Nothing useful happens.
> look
You are by the lake once more. Dense foliage blocks you in all other directions.
> n
You can’t go in that direction!
> e
You can’t go in that direction!
> s
You can’t go in that direction!
> w
You can’t go in that direction!
> nw
You can’t go in that direction!
> inv
You are holding:
The sword Greydeath.
> look
You are by the lake once more. Dense foliage blocks you in all other directions.
> throw sword
You throw the sword back into the lake. The Lady of the Lake stretches her hand out of the deep and catches it once more.

A barge draws up, drawn by two white hippopotami. You enter, and are taken off in triumph to the land of Heroes of Murdac.

You have scored 250 points out of a maximum of 250. Well done!

I enjoyed this the most so far of the Phoenix games. The entire system “clicked” for me in a way where I never felt cheated. This is despite some heavy built-in softlock points; moreso than Hamil. However, the story was short enough I didn’t feel crushing weight from repeating a section. and it does keep you on your toes to keep in mind not only the objects in front of you as you are puzzle-solving, but objects that have already been used up in the past.

Jonathan R. Partington will return later during my 1982 sequence with Avon.

Posted May 12, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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4 responses to “Murdac: The Land of Heroes

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  1. Thanks for the compliment! It sometimes seems like I can pull off one insight per game (the password in Acheton, the phone number in Ferret, sort of the way to deal with the lake in Savage Island).

    My thought process here was that all the professions seemed like they were related to some kind of noisemaking, or not, and “howl” was both associated with werewolves and unusual enough that if the verb was recognized it’d mean I was onto something. And also that the puzzle was close enough to the beginning that I could try it out without too much trouble. I think I had to restart a few times to get a werewolf, I didn’t think of “whisper”!

    • Ah, looking at Richard Bos’s walkthrough, it seems as though there’s a fifth occupation for the gravestone, town crier. “Shout” works for that and perhaps “Yell” as well, not for the noise campaigner.

      (The walkthrough also answers a question I had–what if the random location at the end isn’t the lake? He says that if you pick the sword you’ll be taken to the lake.)

  2. Congratulations, and I’m glad you enjoyed (most of) it! As you no doubt know, Hamil, Murdac and Avon are a trilogy of independent and fairly short games (well, short compared with Acheton and Hezarin), written for the Phoenix mainframe in the period August to December 1982. After that I took a break for a few years, play-tested other people’s games, got married, did some mathematics, etc. Enjoy Avon when you come to it – no knowledge of Shakespeare is required to solve the puzzles, although it may help you appreciate some of the jokes.

    Jonathan Partington
    • I might do a marathon of some of my favorite Shakespeare plays before embarking.

      I assume it will be a smoother experience than the eventual upcoming The Adventure Game (for Sharp systems) based on the BBC show (where they made the contestants play a text adventure in the middle), where familiarity with the show _is_ a help (according to the proprietor of Sharpworks, the only person I know who has beaten it before).

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