The Book of Apshai (1985)

I got Temple of Apshai Trilogy in 1986 as a gift for my eighth birthday. Boy did I obsess over that videogame, let me tell ya.

History first, memoir later. Temple of Apshai, released in 1979, was one of the first graphical computer RPGs. There’s not much going on other than killing monsters, getting loot and leveling up, but by the standards of the day, it was unprecedented. Temple of Apshai Trilogy was a 1985 top-to-bottom remake that included two expansions for the original: Upper Reaches of Apshai and Curse of Ra.

Much of the appeal of the game for me came from the instruction booklet, as you can see from how terribly beat up it is (and also that I still own it all these years later). I distinctly remember bringing it to my birthday dinner at the Jade Palace, a local Chinese buffet, and I think the cover even bears some soy sauce stains from that trip.

First, there were the illustrations, by Mike Mott. I don’t know what happened to this guy, because I’ve never seen his art elsewhere, but these are some of the first images of “dungeon crawling” I ever saw and they made a hell of an impression. Scary and thrilling. (If you know of other work by Mott, drop me a line).

Second, because this was 1986, the game wasn’t visually sophisticated. Rooms were empty black spaces bound by walls. Treasure and monsters only appeared when you got right up on them. To add flair to the environments, every room in the game had a number that corresponded with a description of the room in the manual. “Room Fifty-Eight is a small alcove. The south wall is of carved rock. The air smells strongly of vanilla and floor shows frequent disturbance. A black stain marks the floor near the east wall.”

Descriptions like that – and there are dozens of them! – full of mysteries to discover, are likely what hooked me on RPGs and led me to decades of running them.

By the way, if you ever smell vanilla, you can be sure the antmen are near…

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