Frobozz: Land of Enchantment

Enchanter is a story about words.

Warning: this essay contains story and gameplay spoilers for Enchanter, including and up to the end of the game. Do not continue if you would like to discover such things for yourself!

Enchanter: Handle With Care

It would seem that the most delicate of Infocom’s folio releases is Enchanter, which initially appears to be a silver-grey rectangle of indeterminate material. In the center of the package, this material seems to have been torn (or blasted) away, revealing part of a magenta-and-black rune inscribed on an ornate blue background accentuated by depictions of the moon’s phases. The top of the package folds down over the top third of the carton, so the “tear” is bisected. Half of it is cut out of top flap, while the other half is cut from the front of the package. This bisected “blast radius” seems especially fragile, and it is common to see its cardboard tear from the initial die-cut opening to the edge of the package.

Still, it is a lovely effect. I interpret this presentation as a rune of power breaking free of its page. This is a game about the transformational power of language; what else would a rune be doing?

The carton opens at the top. An ornate folder slides out, revealing the full image of the rune, and it looks like the back of a tarot card. This folder further unfolds–this is a very intricate package–along three axes (left, bottom, and right), revealing a manual and scroll. The text on the cover of the manual appears to be written in a heavily stylized manner–it reminds one of Tolkein’s elvish script. Within are six semi-mimetic pages of instruction, a hallmark of Infocom’s folio manuals.

The final touch is a scroll sealed with faux “wax.” It is a communication from a Circle of Enchanters from the distant past, relaying the contents of a prophecy. A novice Enchanter, they augured, will be the only one to defeat a powerful evil. The scroll additionally provides general advice and description of the Novice’s starting spells. The lettering is appropriately faded, implying that the prophecy is from a forgotten age.

While the package is light in terms of individual feelies, there is no doubt that the package is Infocom’s most elaborate and most beautiful. It is also its most mimetic, since the outer design of the box seems to come directly from the world of the game. While Deadline‘s and The Witness‘s feelies are mimetic, their outside packaging implies an outside observer or narrative perspective: illustrations of characters, text referring to package contents, and so forth. The thoughtful design of the repeatedly unfolding package creates an arcane ambiance of mystery. I believe its fragility, rather than its quality, has unfortunately left it overlooked in discussions of Infocom’s iconic package design.

Once Upon a Time and a Very Good Time It Was

The set-up is simple: a novice enchanter sets out to defeat a powerful warlock. The reason for sending a neophyte will be familiar: sending someone powerful would draw the attention of Krill (that is the villain’s name). It is a Frodo and Sauron scenario, then, with echoes of David and Goliath. The Novice must infiltrate the warlock’s fortress, gathering what spells he can, and put an end to his dark magic.

And dark magic it is: Krill works to cast the world into darkness, and signs of his progress mark the days of the story.

Enchanter begins at a fork in the road–a choice as to which way the Novice might circumnavigate a mountain. The answer is the standard Infocom one: “both.” In those days, movement was not so much an effort to get somewhere as it was to go everywhere. And so he takes a lap around the mountain, gathering food and water. It’s odd that he brings none for his journey to such an inhospitable place. He must be, in all senses, a Novice. Atop the mountain, the Novice first spies the seat of his enemy’s power:

Lonely Mountain
This is the top of the Lonely Mountain. In olden days, mariners had named it Signal Mountain, for its glistening peak reflected the pale moonlight, providing an unmistakable landmark on unclouded nights. The bald mountain face is made of a shining substance whose nature is unknown to you. Looking to the west, low hills stretch to the horizon, and small pieces of the Long Road can be seen winding their way to distant lands. To the east, far away, can be seen a great castle at the edge of the Sea. Three turrets it has; two, old and still majestic, lie on either side of a third, cold, black as night and squat as a toad. An evil smoke seems to emanate from this tower, shrouding the others in a darkening fog. A small mountain trail leaves the peak and descends to the south into a small village far below.

You hear a rustling in the brambles nearby, and you catch a glimpse of something small and furry as it scurries away.

Naturally, the endgame must take place in this dark tower. The passage is notable for another feature: the “rustling in the brambles.” Animals are a recurring motif in Enchanter. The NITFOL spell empowers the novice to speak with animals at crucial moments in the story. There are also appearances of what I would call “disruptive fauna,” such as the instance above. In addition to the “rustle,” two other animal disruptors appear:

Bluebottles buzz up to you, and then away.

and

A gaunt, feral-looking dog carrying a well-chewed bone approaches, is surprised by your presence, growls and then turns tail.

These features, while ostensibly signs of life, actually present as evidence of a land gone feral. The two possibly human entities in this realm are not described in human terms. Take, for instance, this lone remnant of an abandoned village, the next stop on the Novice’s journey:

It is dark and smoky in here, but this is a place of great disorder, and its odor is indescribable. A pile of rags sits near a small pot which is bubbling and steaming over a tiny fire. The pile of rags sports a gnarled hand which busies itself with the noisome stew. A closer look reveals a withered crone at the other end of the hand.

The creature looks you over keenly and speaks: "I should have thought they would send someone more ... more ..." She laughs in an unsettling way. "They've all left! A great storm is brewing in the east, my friend, and all have fled before it!"

These ominous tidings and sights now completed, the Novice makes their way into the castle with use of a new spell, REZROV (“open even locked or enchanted objects”). From here, the Novice is (mostly) free to explore. In fact, this is–appropriately, given its conception as a sequel to a famed Infocom trilogy–an evolution of the Zork model. There is a large map, and the Novice begins by wandering about, looking for problems to solve.

Detail of the Lonely Mountain and village.

Unlike the Zork trilogy, however, the map is organized in a way that simplifies exploration. For the most part, its features are mirrored (opposing wings of a castle with four towers), and the Novice will easily intuit most of its geography. Since this summary is not a puzzle analysis, I will summarize these problems–I consider them vignettes, or episodes.

  • Use magic to open an object but destroy its contents, then use magic to repair them.
  • Interpretation of dreams to uncover secrets.

However, most of these scenarios will be explored in part three of this series.

  • The “Zork IV” episode
  • The Adventurer episode
  • The infernal machine
  • The Legend of the Unseen Horror
  • The defeat of Krill

Without going into detail: the Novice succeeds, and the Warlock falls, or perhaps he fades. In any case, the game concludes with the Novice’s return to the Circle of Enchanters as a member with full privileges:

After a quiet moment, a rumble begins deep in the earth. It strengthens as the tower starts to sway. The floor gives way beneath you and you tumble down towards the sea ... then you are surrounded by a burst of light.

You realize that you are with the Circle. The Eldest of the Circle, Belboz, rises and speaks: "The evil of Krill is ended this day. From beyond hope, you have proved yourself great and worthy. Our hearts are gladdened at your return." A chair appears at his right hand and he motions for you to sit beside him. He smiles warmly. "Join with us," he says, "and tell us of your quest!"

Here ends the first chapter of the Enchanter saga, in which, by virtue of your skills, you have joined the Circle of Enchanters. Further adventures await you as the Enchanter series continues.

The Novice began the game with four spells and finishes with sixteen (thirteen in the spell book plus three scrolls of power). As I have previous indicated, the score is extraneous in Enchanter. The real and utilitarian measurement of progress is the Novice’s acquisition of magic power. By game’s end, they have come far indeed.

Enchanter Miscellany

Fun fact: in each of Enchanter‘s sequels (Sorcerer and Spellbreaker), the Novice begins with a different set of spells.

I’ve linked Dave Lebling’s high-level design/elevator pitch for Enchanter as found with the R29 source code. I say it’s Lebling’s because he seems to have done this for most of his games. Marc Blank likely came up with some of the ideas.

Forthcoming

Is Enchanter really just a mashup of existing ideas and story beats? Does a critic say, “I love the magic system, but what have you done for me lately?” What if Enchanter is actually the most subversive and self-referential game in the Infocom canon? Let’s discuss Enchanter as Metafiction: An IF About IF.

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