Zork IV: Enchanter

Where the magic happens.

Enchanter (1983)
Implemented by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling


Enchanter folio packaging (retrieved from MoCAGH)
Enchanter grey box packaging (retrieved from MoCAGH)
Enchanter Invisiclues map (retrieved from MoCAGH)
Note: for best results, open MoCAGH images in new tab
Enchanter z-code Invisiclues file (retrieved from IDP)
The Obsessively Complete Infocom Catalog: Enchanter
Nathan Simpson’s List of Bugs: Enchanter


(Courtesy of the Infocom Fact Sheet and this forum post). For comparison’s sake, Zork I‘s specifications follow in parentheses (this idea comes from the excellent Eaten by a Grue podcast).

Rooms: 74 (110)
Vocabulary: 723 (697)
Takeable Objects: 33 (60)
Size: 111.1KB (76KB)
Total Word Count (outputted text): 20,742 (14,214)

Opening Crawl

It must be the warlock Krill. The odd disappearances, the mysterious dissolution of regions sacred to the Circle, the lessening of the Powers -- these could only be his handiwork. The Circle gathers and its leader, the esteemed Belboz, reveals to them an ancient document which portends evil days much like our own.

"Krill's evil must be unmade," he begins, "but to send a powerful Enchanter is ill-omened. It would be ruinous to reveal oversoon our full powers." A ripple of concern spreads over the face of each Enchanter. Belboz pauses, and collects his resolve. "Have hope! This has been written by a hand far wiser than mine!"

He recites a short spell and you appear. Belboz approaches, transfixing you with his gaze, and hands you the document. The other Enchanters await his decree. "These words, written ages ago, can have only one meaning. You, a novice Enchanter with but a few simple spells in your Book, must seek out Krill, explore the Castle he has overthrown, and learn his secrets. Only then may his vast evil be lessened or, with good fortune, destroyed."

The Circle rises and intones a richly woven spell, whose many textures imbue the small, darkened chamber with warmth and hope. There is a surge of power; you are Sent.

Infocom interactive fiction - a fantasy story
Copyright (C) 1983, 1984, 1986 by Infocom, Inc. All rights reserved.
ENCHANTER is a trademark of Infocom, Inc.
Release 29 / Serial number 860820

You stand at a point of decision on a road which makes a wide fork to the northeast and southeast, circling the base of the Lonely Mountain, which looms high overhead to the east. A very long and winding road starts here and stretches out of sight to the west through low, smoky hills.
The sun is rising over the lands to the east.

Warning: this essay contains light story spoilers for Zork III and Enchanter, but no puzzle solutions.

Remembering Enchanter

I am not sure exactly when I first played Enchanter. I believe it was in fourth grade. This was during a low point in my career as a child. The only good thing about my homelife at the time was that it was so messy that my parents didn’t force me to play little league baseball.

Well, the games were good, too, and pirated copies of C64 games were plentiful at my school. If I correctly recall the timeline, I had yet to beat an Infocom game. I had, however, gotten far enough in Zork III to experience that famous scene from “Zork IV.” It was a very exciting moment when I discovered it in Enchanter. Was this really Zork IV?

I made a lot of mistakes: bad IZYUKs, frotzing myself, etc. I got a grey box a couple of years later and finally beat it. For me, Enchanter was an all-time favorite, matched only by Deadline. The sense of character advancement (learning new spells) would lead to a lifelong fascination with RPGs (mostly Japanese), with their constant upgrades and advancement loops.

We Can Rebuild It. We Have the Technology

It is generally accepted that the first conception of Enchanter was in fact a conception of Zork IV. Zork III seems very serious (this is from its serious parts, after all) when presenting this rather shocking scene from what it calls “Zork IV:”

Sacrificial Altar
This is the interior of a huge temple of primitive construction. A few flickering torches cast a sallow illumination over the altar, which is still drenched with the blood of human sacrifice. Behind the altar is an enormous statue of a demon which seems to reach towards you with dripping fangs and razor-sharp talons. A low noise begins behind you, and you turn to see hundreds of hunched and hairy shapes. A guttural chant issues from their throats. Near you stands a figure draped in a robe of deepest black, brandishing a huge sword. The chant grows louder as the robed figure approaches the altar. The large figure spots you and approaches menacingly. It reaches into its cloak and pulls out a great, glowing dagger. It pulls you onto the altar and, with a murmur of approval from the throng, slices you neatly across your abdomen.

    ****  You have died  ****

It is one of Zork III‘s many masterful turns, unifying as it does the past, present, and future of the franchise. But what future is this? A future in which a protagonist–surely not our protagonist, not our Adventurer–dies, and dies badly. After many experiments, the player must concede that there is no way for them to enter the world of this “Zork IV” and live. Or, perhaps, more hopefully: there is no way for the Adventurer to enter this temple and live, but someone else might.

Players would have to wait a year to find out, and the tale would change in the telling. Along the way, Dave Lebling and Marc Blank would abandon Zork‘s core gameplay loop for something more mechanically rewarding: collecting and casting magic spells.

Now Featuring: One Dungeon and one Dragon

Presumably it was Dave Lebling who devised Enchanter‘s magic system, which was heavily influenced by the spellcasting mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons (the RPG-lite combat systems in Zork I were a Lebling creation). The core gameplay loop of Enchanter can be summarized as such:

  1. Memorize spells from spell book.
  2. Cast spells to solve puzzles.
  3. Collect reward for solving puzzles (new spells)
  4. Write spells to spell book
  5. [repeat]

Zork‘s gameplay is, by contrast, more of a checklist: solve puzzle, get treasure, etc. Some puzzles reward the player with “keys” (items that can be used to solve other puzzles), but these scenarios are not consistent in the way that Enchanter‘s are.

The core loop positions the game to fully invest in this single mechanic in a way that Zork II could not invest in, say, flying a hot air balloon. Zork II is not a game about balloons, or dragons, or robots. While Zork has episodes with a mostly static character (let’s ignore the odd “XP” effect on combat with the thief, since it impacts only one vignette in a long game), Enchanter is a series of loops in which the character grows in competence and prowess throughout the text of the game. This is a new concept for Infocom: not only does problem solving afford material rewards (opening this door, finding a treasure), it dramatically changes the capabilities of the protagonist.

A somewhat crude drawing of a red dragon in flight, mouth open and wings spread. Above the dragon, there is writing in red letters. It reads: "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons." Enchanter's magic system was inspired by AD&D.
A primary source of inspiration for Enchanter‘s magic system.

Zork Under the Stars

Enchanter is an expansion of the Zork universe. While the grey box editions of Enchanter and the Zork trilogy would include (unfortunately, in my opinion) the beating to death of several old MIT in-jokes and a timeline bloated with dates, the evolution of the Zork universe of the folios is qualitative. That is, players discover and experience signs of culture and history. While the phrase “show, don’t tell” is tired and overused in writing studies, some cliches are repeated for a reason.

Unlike the barren world of the Great Underground Empire, the above-ground game world of Enchanter is a world where people live and work (off-camera, but the point stands). It is a world with professional guilds and towns. It is a world that changes from day to day, and the protagonist–let’s call him the Novice–can witness these changes as they happen (I say “him” because his gender is specified in Beyond Zork).

Enchanter, then, is not a game marked by Zork time. With each turn, the Novice draws closer to an apocalypse. The warlock Krill–the Novice’s nemesis–is casting a spell to cast the world into eternal night. Once the spell is completed, both the world and the game end. While there are a few event-based timers, the absolute and linear clock of Enchanter is one of its distinguishing characteristics.

This novice can watch the sun rise and set. Ominously, the nights grow longer with each passing day, reflecting Krill’s progress in weaving his world-ending magic. Krill’s minions grow increasingly aggressive. While these changes are easy for inattentive players to miss, they are an outward deterioration that mirrors the interior progression of the disease in Planetfall.

Considering the Craft Differences between Literary and Interactive Fiction

I suppose it is a common thing to say that Enchanter’s story is derivative. The novice is a Frodo-like figure that has been selected because he lacks power, and therefore can avoid detection. There is a magic system derived from Gary Gygax’s model. The spells themselves often have a one-to-one relationship with spells in Dungeons & Dragons.

I think “derivative” is an inexhaustive characterization that is often misunderstood as a “last word” on the text of a game, and I reject such assumptions. Interactive fiction is its own literary form and assessing it as one would assess literary fiction does both genres a disservice. One would never say, for instance, that The Hobbit has bad puzzles. Where in literary fiction does the reader direct a turtle to retrieve a scroll? I would argue that the agentic portions of Enchanter–the parts that make it interactive fiction–are inventive and engaging. What now?

I will say it plainly. Literary fiction is not more difficult to write than interactive fiction, nor is it by nature more sophisticated. A work of interactive fiction that is not like literary fiction is not consequentially bad interactive fiction. And vice versa, of course. One might as well say that the Mona Lisa is a bad photograph.

Enchanter is an evolution of Zork in that it expands the universe in interesting ways. It replaces a checklist-style gameplay with a rewarding loop. It abandons Zork time for a linear model that creates senses of pressure and urgency. It contains an interesting “maze,” a Dave Lebling signature. The map is largely open in a Zorkian way, but it is tight and can be explored intuitively. At the time, it was Infocom’s most mechanically innovative game since Suspended.

Looking Forward

By the end of this series, I will argue that Enchanter is a highly sophisticated work of interactive fiction, stating that it is, in fact, a post-modern (or is it post-post-post-modern?) metafictive work. Despite its seemingly derivative nature, Enchanter was–and remains–structurally complex and innovative.

I have promised not to repeat my podcast comments, and I hope to deliver. If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s available on all platforms. It is additionally hosted here.

Next time, I will explore the uniquely beautiful construction of Enchanter‘s folio edition and analyze the text of its story.

9 thoughts on “Zork IV: Enchanter

  1. “I have promised not to repeat my podcast comments, and I hope to deliver.”

    I wish you would repeat your podcast comments. My lifestyle is such that I never listen to podcasts, but I read a lot of blogs. I’m sorry to be missing out on half(?) of your thoughts on this, one my very favourite games.

    1. I can relate. Reading works better for me for a number of reasons. My co-host Callie is more fond of the format than I. I have been looking into options for transcription and will hopefully have a solution soon.

  2. Most podcasts could very fruitfully be supplemented, if not outright be replaced, by full transcripts.

  3. Hi, Drew,

    Just to let you know I found and read the transcript of the Enchanter podcast, and I have to admit it doesn’t really work. Writing and chatting ARE two different mediums, and while I really appreciate your having put in the effort to produce a textual version of that podcast, I don’t think I will be reading further transcripts. I don’t want to be discouraging; I just don’t want you to keep working on this on my account, when I think the experiment has already succeeded by failing.

    (I will certainly keep reading the blog, though!)

    1. Hi Mike. I think it is missing a lot of what people say they like about the podcast, and I haven’t thought of a way to resolve it. I’m going to continue with it until I have more usage/access data, but I’m glad to have your feedback. Thanks!

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