Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Guest Post: The Roguelikes, Part 1

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 27, 2011

All I can say is, “Holy cow!” Brian Critser, AKA Skavenhorde, turned a quick research into roguelikes for a guest post into nearly a Master’s Thesis. It’s awesome. And it’s good for multiple post, the next one arriving hopefully next week. Well worth the read, even if (or especially if) you aren’t all that much up on your roguelikes!

So here’s Skavenhorde’s guest post – The Roguelikes, Part 1.

You can read Part 2 here.

A long time ago – back in 80’s – there was this little game called Rogue. To this 9 year old eyes it looked ugly and was quickly dismissed as an inferior game. What I didn’t know was that Rogue in all its ugliness offered a more rich RPG game than any of the others I had played before. I wish I could go back and smack that 9 year old upside the head and tell him its what he has been looking for in a computer roleplaying game.

Rogue uses ASCII graphics (hence the ugliness). In essence it is a turn-based, single player dungeon romp with a basic goal. Your simple quest is to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor back from the evil Dungeon Lord. He’s hiding the the deepest reaches of the Dungeon of Doom. Your basic cookie cutter plot if I ever heard one.

The attraction of Rogue wasn’t in the plot, but it was in the details. That old saying, “The devil is in the details.” fits so well when describing Rogue and especially the later “roguelikes” that I would have a hard time believing that idiom wasn’t specifically designed with Rogue in mind. At the very least the people who worked on Rogue took that idiom to heart.

Rogue offered a wide variety of monsters, loot and random dungeon levels. The details in Rogue have been far surpassed by games like ADOM, Nethack, and Angband, but Rogue was the first and inspired all the rest to follow in its footsteps.

For those of you who bought the Epyx game here is a trip down memory lane: Epyx Rogue Manual. Gotta love the art in those manuals……well what little there was 🙂

Mostly all Roguelikes are free, with a few exceptions, but one thing they all have in common is that they offer an amazingly deep game.

Here is a list of all the major, and not so major, roguelikes that are available today:

Ancient Domains of Mystery: This is the roguelike that smashed any concerns I had with graphics and made me realize when you take away the graphics then you have more time to deal with gameplay. This may seem like common sense to some of you who already have played many roguelikes, but for me I was blown away by just how much there was to do in this game. I regret having judged rogues based on the ASCII art.

ADOM is a whole world with quests, plenty of character building, stories to follow and choices to make. It’s closer to a usual RPG than some of the other roguelikes. I’ve played. The charatcer building alone will keep you coming back for more. It offers ten different races and twenty different classes.

I’ve read that this roguelike is brutal on beginners and while I do agree I don’t think of that as a negative. Like other roguelikes it will also punish you through death. It’s the main way you learn from your mistakes. If you don’t like to read spoilers then you will die and die a lot before you figure out what creatures to be careful of and how to deal with them. Everything you first encounter will be a mystery to you and should be treated with kid gloves until you learn more about them. For me, that is part of the appeal to this roguelike or roguelikes in general. There are creative ways to handle situations. For example: are you low on food? Well try eating that corpse of that monster you just killed, but be aware that meat isn’t just meat in this game. There can be some unexpected consequences or bonuses when trying something for the first time.

What makes ADOM stand apart from the rest are its skill system, quests, an honest to goodness plot, monster behavior and other tiny little things like the random bonus you get when creating your character. There are other little things like a wilderness, talking to NPCs to get information about quests, weather and corruption.

I would like to point out again just how difficult this game is. I’ve read review after review, post after post about how people have had a hard time surviving in this game. I do agree with them, but can’t understand them at the same time.

I was a total newb to roguelikes when I first fired up ADOM. On top of that handicap I played a rather weak character, a dark elf necromancer. I got kicked around like a ragdoll at first, but over time I started wising up on how to survive with such a weak character. I was kicking butt and taking names for awhile until, of course, I got too cocky and was killed for my stupidity. Poor Rincewind just couldn’t handle those Iron Golems the first time I encountered them, but I did learn a lesson when dealing with Iron Golems.

I expect that I will die again when I come across a rather nasty creature for the first time, but I do survive a lot longer than I did at first.



Abandonia reloaded

Just Adventure

Home of the Underdogs

PC World

Add ons & Extras

An absolute must for any new ADOM adventurer is to read the manual and parts of the Improved Guide Book. You will be totally lost without some working knowledge of what is going on in this world. For example: it would never had occurred to me to sacrifice to altars other than ones of my own alignment or that you had to be careful with what you sacrifice to the altars. It’s little details that makes these type of roguelikes truly amazing.



Manual & Extras

ADOM Guidebook

ADOM Improved Guidebook

Online References:


Improved Guidebook

Nethack : Nethack has been around for a long time. Unlike ADOM it is in a single dungeon called the Mazes of Menace. You have been given a quest by the gods to get the Amulet of Yendor and escape the Maze alive. Simple quest, but the magic of his game and any good roguelike is in the details.

The setting is your typical fantasy environment. You thirteen different character classes to choose from and five different races. The usual dwarves, humans, orcs, gnomes and elves. The character classes are a little different, but have some of the usual ones like wizard, rogue, priest and some not so usual ones like samurai, valkyrie, tourist and archeologist.

You are allowed to have pets which will follow you around and help out when needed. You’ll need to keep them fed and keep them tame.

Most of the dungeon levels are randomly generated upon first entering them.  The levels may contain altars, shops, fountains, traps, etc. There are a few special levels which are fixed in every game.

The game is logical in what it can do (and it can do a lot). Take the cockatrice for example: In a normal D&D adventure they are a nuisance because they can turn you to stone, but Nethack takes that simple idea and expands upon it. I would highly recommend that you do not eat a cockatrice corpse or even touch it with your bare hands because the outcome will not be something you enjoy. If you really want to fool around with a cockatrice corpse (the reward for doing this is great) then take precautions like wearing gloves, but be careful if you keep it. You never know when you could fall down. If any unprotected part of you touches the corpse….well you’ll be starting a new game and learned a valuable lesson when dealing with them.

That is just one tiny aspect to this game. The great thing about the game is that everything you do makes sense if you think creatively. This game rewards players for thinking outside the box.

Essential Reading:


Absolute Beginner’s Guide for Nethack 3.4.1 (no spoilers)


The Escapist

Honest Gamers


Nethack Game

Ali’s Nethack Page (tons of resources for nethack)

Angband: I’ve never played this one, but I’ve heard it’s loosely based upon J. R. R. Tolkien’s work. The goal to Angband is to survive the dungeon and get to level 100. There you will need to defeat Morgoth.

There are elven different races to choose from. Anyone familiar with J. R. R. Tolkien (who isn’t?) will recognize the races. Once again you have your usual ones like human, elf, dwarf, half-orc and a few inspired the books like the Dunadan and of course hobbits. Kobolds also make a showing here.

The are only six character classes to choose from. You have warrior, mage, priest, rogue, ranger and paladin.

Unlike Nethack you start off in a town and not directly in the dungeon. In the town you will find a general store, armory, weapon smith, temple, alchemy shop, magic shop, The black market and the most essential place of all your home. You can store your equipment here, but the space is limited so choose wisely in what you wish to leave there for future use.

The dungeons levels are randomly generated when the player moves up or down the stairs. The monsters and resources you’ll discover are infinite. There doesn’t seem to be any pressure time wise.

There are many variants to angband and will list them all later. I have no personal experience with any of them, but will try to give a brief overview on each.

Essential Reading:

Online User Manual

Online Players Guide


Angband Game

Extra Sound Effects

Graphic Tiles (Under Extra files)


Zangband– Widely accepted as the most successful of the many variants. Zangband is heavily influenced by the world of Amber created by Roger Zelazny. I’ve found both an ASCII version and one with a tileset (I’m sure there are a lot more tilesets for this game available). The graphics are passable, but who really cares about the graphics in a roguelike anyways? It’s all about the gameplay.

From what I read the goal is similar to Angband, but the antagonist has changed to the Serpent of Chaos. There are now 30 races and 11 character classes to choose from with 7 varieties of magic. If you like to know more about it there is an excellent review for ZangbandTK over at Abandonia Reloaded.

The rest of the variants will be listed in no particular order. Basically first found first posted:

T.o.M.E. – This game has had many reincarnations. T.o.M.E.now stands for Tales of Maj’Eyal, but it was previously known as Tales of Middle Earth and before that I believe it was Pernangband. Tome has graphical tiles, music and sound effects.

It’s modular based so that it is easier for fans to make their own game so that a layman like myself could make their own adventures.

It features a skill point based character system, activated combat abilities with cooldowns, resource management, runes, infusions, freeform quests, special levels, multiple dungeons, towns with a wilderness and schools of magic based spell system.

There are races and subraces you can choose from such as an Undead Skeleton. Yes, you can play as the undead in this game which is interesting since I love playing a necromancer. They also have something called a Yeek. I have no idea what that is since the information for it doesn’t exist in their online help. This one does sound interesting and seems to be pretty popular. However this next variant has caught my attention.

sCthangband – A Cthulhu-inspired angband. I don’t know that much about it since the homepage is down, but it is up to build 1.0.18 and from forum posts over at Angband.oook.cz it sounds interesting with a wilderness, cities, dungeons, quests towers and Cthulhu monsters. You can get it here.

FuryBandFuryband focuses on combat with more races, character classes, monsters, spells and objects. It’s up to version 5.0/gold. Not sure what the gold stands for, but its got to be good 🙂

This one takes angband and expands upon the rather limited character classes and races. There is a mini review for it over at gamespy.

FAangband – FAangband is in Tolkien’s world set in the late First Age hence the FA. It features a wilderness, multiple towns and multiple dungeons. The are also three big bad foozles you need to kill this time around.

The biggest difference is that it tries to take away everything that was not in the First Age. So there are no Rings of Power, Saruman, Witch-king, ect. The author has replaced them with other unique weapons and, I would believe, monsters to battle.

Steamband – This is one of the few betas I’ll be listing here for one simple reason, it’s steampunk! There are too few steampunk games out there and finding this just made my day. Between the Cthulhu inspired angband and this one I’m kicking myself now for not searching through these variants earlier. I ignored angband because truth be told I’m a little tired of Middle Earth.

Unfortunately I don’t think this is updated anymore since the last update was in 2007, but from the forum threads I read on it it is quite playable and fun. There are quite a few races and nationalities you can choose from. You have the realworld African, American, Arabic, etc. nationalities, but you also have brownies, ghosts, old one (please be a reference to cthulhu), trolls, etc. There are two additional races that you won’t find in other angbands or even roguelikes for that matter. Those are automaton and steam-mecha.

There aren’t as many classes as there are races, but who really cares about a class when you can play as a steam-mecha. A few of the classes are adventurer, engineer, medium and of course rogue. They had to throw at least one cookie cutter class in there.

Gumband – Replaces Amber elements of Zangband with those of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion books. A few other changes are increased damage from magical effects, some of the dungeon generation, added in monster vulnerabilities and a few other rebalances.

There doesn’t seem to be a homepage, but you can get it here.

Hengband – A Japanese variant to Zangband. There is not really that much information on it, but the description over at angband.ook.cz seemed to love it calling it highly original with some impressive interface developments. I guess I’ll have to check this out if I want to get any details on it other than a huge list of changes from the homepage.

I’ll wrap it up here for now. This article is taking on mammoth proportions and I’ve just got started. In the next post expect more variants on Angband and Nethack plus other roguelike not based around those two games.


Filed Under: Free Games, Guest Posts, Roguelikes - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • getter77 said,

    Yep, I approve of this listing and look forward to seeing which of the many nifty ones make the cut in the future for mention. ; )

  • skavenhorde said,

    Thanks getter.

    When making this I was shocked to find so many angbands. That steampunk one is next on my list to play. Unfortunately I’m just too busy to give it a try right now.

    Hope you like the next list. It’s not quite as detailed as this one, but I tried to include all of the better angbands out there.

    I still prefer ADOM above them all. It might be because that was the first to show me the wonderful world of roguelikes or more likely that it takes into account that some people might want to turn their dark elf necromancer good.

    One thing that really does puzzle me are all of the reviews crying about how hard ADOM is on beginners. Nuts to that I say. ADOM made me want to figure out all those cryptic keyboard commands and what they did. It also made me want to read up on it to find out just how much this game had to offer. The game is hard because roguelikes are hard. People say that Crawl is a better one for beginners. I do agree with that in some ways, but in others ADOM is more the RPG experience that I was looking for whereas Crawl is your basic dungeon crawl with everything out to kill you. It’s a great dungeon Crawl, but still that’s all it is. I like the quests and skills that are improved upon after each level up in ADOM.

  • McTeddy said,

    ADOM was actually my first roguelike ever.

    I actually found the complexity of the gameplay very liberating. I mean… If I see a door I can do many things:

    – Open the door
    – Kick the door open.
    – Use my axe to chop down the door.
    – Lock the door…
    – Blow up the door…

    The possibilities were endless… or at least fairly open. Even if most of the differences were little more than a description… I grew to love the style.

    But… we’ve already established that I am a masochist who actually enjoys the challenge of learning new games.

    Oh… and don’t care what anyone says… My Trollish Assassin was amazing.

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    “you will die and die a lot before you figure out what creatures to be careful of and how to deal with them.”

    Unfortunately, in most roguelikes there is only one way to deal with any of the “special” creatures: happen to have the specific countermeasure to its special attack before meeting the first one. On occasion, precognition is also required in addition to dumb luck.

    I love roguelikes, but this must be said: the difficulty in most of them is due to arbitrariness and unfairness, not clever gameplay. And I wish RL developers would understand that the RNG is a tool, not the whole point of the game.

  • Braindead said,

    good to see you came out of the tunnels to write this up. ADOM is definitely my favorite roguelike, simply because of the complexity, wide range of choices (yay for dark elf necro, my first choice as well), and the underlying storyline with multiple dungeons to explore.
    I’m still hoping Biskup will finish JADE sometime, but that is not going to happen anytime soon…

    Someone recently pointed me in the direction of ToME and I must say this one is allot of fun as well. The tiles actually look very nice and the skill based leveling is a nice change. Only downside is the lack of complexity…

  • WCG said,

    Very interesting post. Thanks!

    I play roguelikes sometimes, but only as casual games. So I can never remember from one play to the next what a creature’s special characteristics are. And I get bored starting over all the time, so I quickly lose interest.

    I’d prefer that permanent death be an option I could turn off, if I wanted, because nothing makes me angrier than being forced to play a game the way someone else – even the game developer – thinks I should. After all, what difference does it make to anyone else? Well, a surprising number of people have these autocratic tendencies.

    But I do like the variety. A lot of gameplay features and items are really clever. However – and this applies to ALL games, not just rogues – I’d like to see ways to learn about creatures before you encounter them. Hey, if I’m going to explore a dangerous cave or dungeon, the LEAST I’m going to do is talk to the local people about it first.

    I wish every game gave me the opportunity – which I could skip, if I wanted – of talking to the locals, maybe even needing to get on their good side, to find out the dangers I was going to face, the characteristics of monsters, local rumors, etc.

  • Guest Post: The Roguelikes, Part 2 said,

    […] You can read Part 1 here. […]

  • Gibbering Madness said,

    My favourite Roguelike is Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. It’s free, very well balanced, and updated often. The devs are a bit fanactical, and seem to hate dwarves, but it’s one of the best out there.