phantasia: Old-school role playing

It must be game day. Hiding in bsd-games is phantasia, a real throwback to the old, old days of role playing games.


phantasia has a lot of elements of circa-1980 role playing — fighter, magic-user, dwarf classes and so on, or in things like “carrion crawlers“. And there’s the obvious Tolkien influence. Try phantasia -m and count how many monsters are stolen from The Lord of the Rings. 🙄

Of course, it’s easy to pick on phantasia, from modern standards. The interface is sparser than sparse. The menu system is clunky, navigation is awkward (unless you use the vi keys … you can thank me later 😉 ), there’s no mapping unless you do it by hand, and combat is completely opaque. All but one of the spells are intended for combat.

It’s barely intriguing — and far from absorbing — but it does have a few redeeming qualities.

For one thing, it suggests more than one person can play at a time. I couldn’t test that for sure, but the man page and in-game messaging system suggest it. I’d be curious to see how that works.

It also manages to pull in a few ideas that were way before its time. I don’t recall seeing a “sin” system until some mid-1990s games, and as I understand it most of phantasia dates back to well before 1983. And the passage of time (in other words, aging) has an effect on ability scores — which wasn’t novel for RPGs, but I have a feeling it was for electronic ones.

And for as primitive as phantasia appears, it has a charm to it. Looking back, you can almost see the stepping stones from this, to Telengard, to Ultima IV, to King’s Quest V, to … and so on.

And phantasia is still around — in one form or another — and probably will be for a while.