Roguelike rarity: classic ToME 2.3.5 + Theme 1.2.0 (Windows binaries)

Currently “ToME” is a roguelike game available on Steam. This post is instead about of an earlier version that is unique and completely different. It (this post) also previously appeared on the Reddit roguelike.

I consider this fairly important because this game is a rarity. This site is partly about recovering precious things that are otherwise left behind, overlooked and forgotten. And recovering that specific flavor that is now lost. This game is probably so huge and “epic” in scope that you’ll hardly ever find again something like it. Its existence depended on a number of things, and that made it unique.

Usually the vanilla Angband should take an experienced player about 20-30 hours to win on a single run. For someone who isn’t as experienced probably at least twice as much (but then you wouldn’t survive very long in that case). Of course playing a roguelike means failing, learning and repeating, so those who play them easily end up putting hundreds of hours into them. In this case this version of ToME can be considered a much bigger version of Angband, so I have no idea what kind of numbers we have here. You could think playing games being an hobby. In this case ToME isn’t part of the hobby, it would make an hobby by itself.

Of course, I like this. I like specifically the ideal of something so big that is outside of human possibilities to play. I like the idea of something so ambitious that its existence is improbable. This game approaches that delicious madness, and so I’m writing about it here.

I was reading on CRPG Addict his report about Moria and so I went looking for the roguelike family tree to see how the game developed. I like longer, epic roguelikes more than those that are fast and repeatable, so the idea of a very long progression and deep character development appealed me (and if you have more suggestions, please add them).

From Moria comes Angband and from everything I read there’s really no reason to prefer Moria. Angband is just a richer and improved version without any downside (it seems). But then I remembered that about a year ago I was looking into the older ToME, an Angband successor with more flavor and content, since someone told me that the newer ToME was much streamlined, and with a comparably smaller world, with shorter dungeons and so on. That piqued my interest and I looked more into that, learning that Tome 3 was a dead end, and that the only “pure” version of ToME that remained was 2.3.5, and that it was only maintained by some guy, with a few bugfixes, only available as source code. So I spent some time trying to compile it on Windows and after a few struggles I finally succeeded.

As far as I figured out, whereas Angband is about a descent down 100 individual levels of dungeons, with one town on top, instead ToME 2.3.5 takes the 100+ levels and splits them across a number of different dungeons (Barrow-Downs 1-10 / Mirkwood 11-33 / Mordor 34-66 / Angband 67-127) that are then scattered around an explorable world map. This means that they expanded and opened out the structure, creating a wilderness “overworld” zone to explore, with different towns and dungeons. On top of all that they also added another cumulative 262 levels of “optional” dungeons to add to the first number (Orc Cave 10-22 / Old Forest 13-25 / Helcaraxe 20-40 / Sandworm Lair 22-30 / The Heart of the Earth 25-36 / Maze 25-37 / Cirith Ungol 25-50 / Land of Rhun 26-40 / Mines of Moria 30-50 / Small Water Cave 32-34 / Submerged Ruins 35-50 / Illusory Castle 35-52 / Paths of the Dead 40-70 / The Sacred Land of Mountains 45-70 / The Tower of Dol Guldur 57-70 / Erebor 60-72 / Mount Doom 85-99). But not only, this version of ToME also has built-in an optional module that once again greatly expands the basic game (and adds seven more dungeons, for 50 more levels: Forodwaith 75-80 / The Blue Mountains 60-70 / Dol Amroth 25-35 / Angmar 80-90 / Near Harad 20-25 / Isengard 35-40 / Tol Eressea 40-45), adding a lot more stuff and more Tolkien flavor all over the place, including more quests, items, monster types and so on. It seemed also very well received, at the time, and since we have the very last version I also hope it’s relatively stable and bug free.

So I’d love to read about experiences about this. The best thing would be if someone decides to revisit it. I have the Windows binaries I compiled, packed with tweaked settings that solved a few issues I was having, so it should be good just unpacking the .zip and run the binary. This version was compiled at the very end of 2013, so one could think it’s outdated, but looking at the source commits absolutely nothing was changed in the meantime. The version appears as 2.4 in the game, but of course only minor bugfixing happened after the official 2.3.5, and as far as I know this could be considered the most up to date and working version of the lost classic ToME (plus the Theme module that expands it).

And, given the amount of content that seems packed there, probably something unique that no other Rogue/Angband/Nethack successor can match.

Anyone want to pick the challenge and try it? I’d like to see reports about how it stands the passage of time and how it matches compared to the other, many, Angband successors. Oh, and it would be great if someone eventually wrote an in-depth guide about the most important ones, because it’s impossible to actually know what sets each apart…

Here the links, one is a screenshot of how it looks out of the box, the other is the zip with the binary:

I’ve played a little bit on my own as a total noob.

The game is still filled with lots of counter-intuitive things. For example, if you enter a particular building in the first village you get hit by thieves and put in a jail. You wake up and can try to escape but as a level 1 you can’t kill the thieves on the level. So restart.

The first level of the dungeon had no stairs going down. Eventually I was able to find a special room that was locked. After numerous attempts the door opened and inside there were a few bandits and a princess calling for help. I tried, of course, but I was only level 2 and later figured out I didn’t save the allocation of skill points for some reason, and I was even wounded, so I died again in two hits.

The third time I wait until level 3, fully healed and with skills allocated. This time I was more careful but the bandits still damaged me a lot, so I retreated toward the exit of the dungeon and when I knew I was safe I tried to land a few more hits before leaving. I was lucky and I was able to kill the bandit, and got enough experience points from that single kill to level up a few times. Whoa! I think I went from level 3 to level 6 straight away. Then when I returned to the princess I found her between two impassable glass walls and had to look up on the internet to figure out what I was supposed to do. It turns out the quest log tells you to kill six bandits, but beside the one I already killed there was no one else around. Eventually I figured out they spawn around the level and appear and disappear from time to time stealing for you. In the meantime something weird also happened and I started to be followed around by a massive amount of “friendly” creatures, including a guy who kept telling me my shoes were unlaced. It was kind of weird. When I finally killed the last bandit the princess said she was free and asked me to pick a reward, and when I returned to her spot there was now the reward on the ground, along with the actual ladder going down…

It takes some time to figure out what the game wants you to do. Other small mechanics, like the need for a light source and food, do not seem annoying as the stuff is very cheap and lasts for a very long time. So, it’s a fun game, but kind of quirky and opaque in the way it works.

This is what the first level looked like:

Another version, still level 1:

And this is level 2:

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