Closer Look: Dragon Woods

Good ideas and bad execution result in a fun yet flawed adventure in this self-described "comedy-rpg"

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Apr 30, 2020
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The tower bursting into flame may be a little unprecedented sure. Nadir nails the effect which not only illustrates great effort in scripting the burning, but it looks great when the fire flames out and leaves a charred looking mess behind.

I was a bit disappointed that freeing the townsfolk doesn't change Grapemarket at all. All the buildings remain inaccessible and nobody that was captured can be seen wandering around outside.


Several boards of backtracking later, and Lindor can finally deliver the password and get on with it. Speedrunners will be disappointed to learn that although there is this large list of possible passwords to select from the start, the correct answer isn't available as an option until Lindor learns it. No Grape-skip strats here.



This is a worse than average style invisible wall maze as an object constantly makes revealed walls turn invisible again. Nadir doesn't use the "accepted" technique of bumping into a wall causing the whole maze to flash, but just that one tile, so the code is actively making this more of a pain to complete.

Thankfully it's a fairly short maze just confined to this corner. Touching the flickering blue object encased within it gets rid of a different invisible barrier preventing Lindor from continuing into the next room.


The next room is a generally sensible transporter maze. The only thing notable about it is that some of the transporters will lead the player behind the walls of the room.

If you look closely you can also see a boulder which needs to be moved in order to reroute one of the transporters. This is done by exploring the outer walls and discovering some fake walls and an invisible transporter.

Typically I'd frown at the design decision to require the player to find something that's invisible, but the boulder and the transporter pointing south that's below it do a good job of implying that there's something there. (You can also note a slight discrepancy in the outer walls as well.)

Likely though, you won't be thinking about secret invisible transporters and the first time through you'll push the boulder the other way around and softlock the game. Admittedly this does reveal the secret transporter for next time. This isn't the best puzzle but even if you break it, it's still faster to navigate it twice than getting through that invisible wall maze once.


The next board has something Nadir was clearly proud of, going so far as to place a copyright in the object name explaining the "Simon Engine".


Except this puzzle isn't Simon at all. There's no sequence presented to the player for them to then repeat. There are just seven fake walls and standing on them in the incorrect order kills you.


At least talking with Nadir in the ZZT bar had him give the solution. Being handed the answer (I guess somewhat obfuscated by only listing the first letter of each color) defeats the purpose of what is a bit of a complex series of objects that make up the puzzle.

Attempting to do this without talking to Nadir would be miserable. Either way this board is a wasted opportunity.


This, however, is definitely cool. This kind of hybrid board that's part traditional gameplay and part art conveys a lot more about Count Cracula than we'd otherwise get if he was just a cyan smiley.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
VAMPIRE: Hoo boy. Don't tell me. HE sent
you. So I killed a few trolls...big deal!!

LINDOR: Lord Cracula, I presume?

CRACULA: Yep. And I eat you now. But I'll
be nice about it. What's your name, kid?

LINDOR: Lindor MacWellianson Phd. Why?

CRACULA: I need your name for this joke...
Ahh!! Dr. MacWellianson, I CONSUME?!!!

LINDOR: Ferget it. That joke's old.

CRACULA: Well, you get the point. Now

LINDOR: Oh darn.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The humor is not good, and the boss fight isn't much better.


It's still better than the battle with the wildmen since there's only one enemy. Cracula moves around, shoots a lot, and sometimes throws a star which will eventually be transformed into a centipede. This is again a much better approach than letting stars expire on their own.

Again like the fight with the wildmen Nadir just drops 100 health on the player without saying anything. This time there's no ammo given though, so if you were shooting all the bogeymen earlier you're probably in a bad situation.

Cracula takes 22 shots to defeat and moves erractically enough that he's a pain to actually hit. Cut his health in half and this would probably be a pretty decent fight, but instead it's just too drawn out to stay entertaining. Still, it's not too terrible. It's definitely doable and the free health was enough that when it was all done I only left the room with 30 less than I entered it with.


Once killed Cracula explodes into blue dust and the trolls have been avenged. It would have meant a lot to me if Nadir included a passage here to exit the castle. Instead the player has to backtrack (of course) through the transporter and invisible wall mazes again to get back to the castle entrance.


Finally Lindor is back on track to get the Minfannon. No more castles, no more towers, no bogeymen, no vampires, no trolls. All that remains is getting through a volcano.


I don't get the purpose of this board. When the player finishes walking to the edge, another manual cutscene trigger occurs and a passage reveals for the player to walk in to continue. This could have just been on the bottom of the bridge troll screen above.

Ah, scratch that. There's a secret passage to the west that takes you to a board filled with supplies and plugging the band Prodigy. Obviously.

I was hoping for a cute scene of Lindor climbing the mountain, but he goes for an alternate way inside.


There's one transitional board where the walls fade from gray to red before leading to this crossroad.


My immediate assumption was that the temple would hold the Minfannon and so I should explore the rest of the volcano to get whatever item I'd need to obtain it.


As Lindor travels deeper into the volcano's heart, he complains more and more about how strong the heat is.

On this board there's a return to shooting basic ZZT baddies, but it feels like they're just haphazardly placed compared to the structure of chambers in the darkest part of Dragon Woods. This board feels like a step back in quality, but again like the fight with Cracula, it's not "bad", just not "good".

Lindor makes his way through, shooting anything that moves and isn't a shark.


Okay this again a pretty good gag where a few seconds after talking about how he can take the heat Lindor suddenly burns up and dies.

It turns out you go to the temple to be able to complete this branch and not the other way around!


Now this is a beautiful board. I am really impressed by the temple's appearance and while there have been some nice scenes before, this one stands out the most to me. This would totally be the preview image for this article if it wasn't for the fact that it has nothing to do with the actual "Dragon Woods" part of the game.


The temple isn't quite as impressive on the inside, but at least it's compact. Immediately after entering the head priest runs towards Lindor to explain the dwarves' plight.

LightningDwarf Head Priest
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
A dwarf in a priestly outfit approaches

DWARF: Greetings, wizard. Welcome to the
Temple of Obsideon.

LINDOR: Hiya. Here, what are dwarves doing
in a volcano??

DWARF: Oh, sorry. I'll explain.

   I'm the head of the LightningDwarves, a
littleknown race of dwarf. We live in the
volcano. Or, at least, we used to. About
6 months ago a dragon rose from the lava
pool near our village and blew it on fire,
leaving only this temple and a few remains
intact. All communications were cut off-
(there are LightningDwarves living all
over this volcano, not just here), leaving
the temple (that's us) to provide a
sancutary for the villagers.
    Right now, we badly need someone
to get rid of the dragon. We can't combat
it, it is made of molten iron. Pure iron's
lethal to all dwarves. And it's been like
that for the past six months. Until now.

LINDOR: Your point?

HEAD DWARF: Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease

LINDOR: NO! I've already been pushed
around enough by trolls and bogeymen
and vampires, I don't want to!! I only
came here looking for directions!

HEAD DWARF: Yeah? Where to?

LINDOR: <calms down> I'm on a quest to
find a mind-control gem. It's called the
Minfannon. That's ALL. AND YOU'RE NOT

HEAD DWARF: Okay....your choice. Of course
you DO know that the dragon lives down the
passage south-west of here...and the
Minfannon is south-west of here too...

LINDOR: <Gulpgt; uh...really?>

HEAD DWARF: Yeah, and the dragon will
incinerate ya instantly unless you've some
kind of protection...

LINDOR: <Something tells me I'm not going
to like the outcome to this...>

HEAD DWARF: And the only place you can get
that protection is HERE. But, as you won't
help us, I guess you'll just have to give
up your quest...


HEAD DWARF: Good...I knew I'd get you to
see it my way.

LIND0R: If you hadn't, I guess the title
to the game would be pretty meaningless.
Ok, where's this stuff?

HEAD DWARF: Go into the inner sanctum.
We've got three spells there that you can
use against the dragon - we can't use them
though. Dwarves can't.

LINDOR: I'll do it. I don't get a choice.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

After a large wall of text, Lindor is stuck taking one last quest, using his magical knowledge to learn some spells and defeat the dragon who coincidentally blocks the path to the Minfannon.


The spellbook offers five abilities for Lindor to learn. Ammo is used to represent Lindor's capability to learn the spells. This doesn't cost ammo, but just checks that you have that much ammo to begin with, so 100 ammo is enough to learn everything listed here.

Of course there's a Barney spell. This is a bit of a late game to have Barney jokes in it which I suspect is more just that the ZZTers who began ZZTing in the heyday of Barney-bashing games continuing it solely because Barney-bashing is a thing in ZZT games.


The only other thing of interest is this one final shop. The prices aren't that great, but the player can cannibalize their score to get more gems and thus ammo. At this point in the game buying torches is completely pointless, and in my case since I had already cleared out that one room with creatures, buying health is as well.


Now it's possible to reach the end of the volcano and not die.


The final obstacle is a slider puzzle that looks more complicated than it actually is. The entire right half can be ignored and just a few pushes let Lindor grab the key and have a path both forward and back if needed.

The sign states that the lightning dwarf village is to the north, which means it's time for the game's RPG climax.

RPG Battle
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Okay, here's the scoop:

As you entered the village, your
protection ran out, and you fainted of
heat exhaustion. However, just before you
fainted, you set up a short-range teleport
spell to get you out of the cavern. When
you awoke, you found yourself in a cooler
part of the volcano. You got up, brushed
yourself off, and turned around to see...
A MASSIVE GREAT DRAGON?!??!!!???!!!!! It
must be the same one those dwarves were
going on about...anyway, the dragon
attacked, and here you are. In a turn
based RPG battle. Isn't that special??

You have the following spells:

Short-range transport
Aura Disruptor
Barney Attack
Fire & Ice
You can also attack, and throw rocks if
you have any.

The dragon can:

Breathe Fire
Cast Earthquake spell
Cast Iron Lion Spell

Good luck, and remember matter
how well/badly you do at this, it's not
fixed. It's random. So save NOW!!!!!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

It wouldn't be a late 90s ZZT game if it didn't end like this.

There's a whole lot of explanation, but as is usually the case, this is a highly random fight that is entirely luck-based and winning requires saving after luck works in your favor and loading when it doesn't.


Where it really falls apart is the now these spells actually cost ammo to cast, and the costs are massive.


Looking at the battle scene proper, I immediately open with a Barney attack. This is of course the strongest attack available (and it can miss like every other attack). It deals five damage on a hit. This is just over a quarter of the dragon's health. A basic attack deals one point of damage. The other spells do three.

The dragon's attacks are roughly comparable, but they have no limitations on using any of them. Lindor's magic will be quickly exhausted (if he hasn't found the Prodigy room) while the dragon will average three damage per turn.


The animations are fun at least. Again this is a case of the numbers being way off for this sort of thing.

The one unique feature this RPG engine has is that stalactites fall when the dragon uses earthquake. If the attack misses, Lindor catches a rock and can then throw it for two damage. The battle turns into you hoping for this to happen constantly as it means Lindor can do something better than a basic attack without spending any ammo.


Even still, this is how badly Lindor fared on my first attempt.


Next time the randomness was much more in my favor to begin with and I had a significant head start in damage.


It still wasn't enough to win legitimately. I cheated for ammo to keep casting spells and was reloading whenever I'd miss my own attacks. Even with perfect accuracy the fight was just barely won. (I could have and probably should have been reloading when the dragon didn't miss.)

Folks, it's pretty bad.

The fight just stops and the player moves on to their reward.

The Minfannon is collected and Nadir finally shows some sympathy by not making Lindor walk back to Coaster.

Of course it ends with one last goof about needing to go back for the instruction manual. It's a very Ghouls n' Ghosts ending with the need to redo everything once the game is completed.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Anyway, to cut a short story long, you
basically restart the journey, get the
manual, feel badly done to, come back
again, and use the Minfannon to get rid
of the king, and making him think he is a
peasant farmer. Everyone has a party, then
Salmonella becomes queen, and you and the
other CATS get cool courtier jobs that
require little work and pay loads, like
being a politian does.


Oh yeah, and Coastilvania becomes well
governed again, whatever.

-=≡ THE END ≡=-

(Go through the passage to see the
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Despite the chance to end with a gag, Nadir gives everyone a happy ending. There's a second quest off screen and then the Minfannon is used to non-violently depose of King Asphalt and put Salmonella on the throne.


One final animation draws each letter on the parchment and roll credits.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Congratulations. This is the Iongest word
l can think of that doesn't have an `e' in
it. But enough chat. I've got some credits
to give out!!

-=≡ Credits ≡=-

Concept by - Sarah Carter, a weird
RPG-lover from school.

Game, sound & graphics by - Zenith

Some of the Sƒx - ALexis JAnson

SIMON Password Engine by - Zenith

Interactive Fantasies by - Hercules

ßeta Testing by - Hydra78, Tom Bowman, HM,
& LemmingCow. (Thank you, people!!!)

Thanks 2 -

Hydra - for letting me into IF. It rules.
Yay. =)

Sweeney, usual.

yenraB - for the Coolie's Fire Engine.

Chronos - for the ?-dark proof engine.

Hercules - I put a LOT of Savage Isle
referances in the game. Some are more
obvious than others... ;)

Me!! - for fixing my EMS so I can run
MegaZeux. Honour Quest is the only good
game I've played so far, though.

And, of course, YOU!!! Don't ask me why.

Apologies to -

LemmingCow - because his computer is too
crappy to play this game. (I'll send him a
special 2-file edition, tho'! =)

No thanks to -

Anyone who even THINKS of ripping this
game off!!


Dammit. Now I've finished this game, I'll
start work on my next project, /\/emesis!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Final Thoughts

You know what? I liked it. Dragon Woods is very much still a game made by somebody still learning their way around ZZT, but it's a competent adventure with a few messy points. Nadir was well on his way here to becoming a major player in the ZZT scene and for good reason. Dragon Woods manages to be funny, has a lot of charm to it, and holds up pretty well today.

Yes, it has rough patches. Wrong turns do nothing but lead the player to dead ends and force them to turn around. There's an invisible maze. You're instantly killed if you use the ?-DARK cheat. It's easy to miss things in Coaster and stumble around without knowing what to do. The wildmen battle is annoyingly frantic. The final RPG battle is virtually unwinnable without reloading away bad rolls. There's plenty here to find fault with.

All of these small blemishes add up, but they're well counteracted with the fun of the adventure. Even this early on Nadir manages to do some impressive stuff with his art. The writing is silly sometimes purposely and sometimes not. Still, we've seen several takes on "comedy RPG" before: November Eve, Stupid RPG, and Algorithm, but its Dragon Woods which was released before any of its competition that is able to be the most pleasant to play and most likely to make you laugh.

Dragon Woods certainly earns its reputation of being an above average ZZT world for the time that isn't groundbreaking. Its contributions to future ZZT worlds is basically zilch, save for the one large exception where the game's structure is cleaned up and refined for Nadir's own Frost games. Lindor's serious quest that isn't taken very seriously maps out to Penny's own perilous journey through the woods in Frost 1 quite well. Turn the character into anthropomorphic animals and you've basically got a spin-off.

A lot of these games of middling quality (and this is on the high end of that) end with me seeing the author as having potential and wishing they kept at it. Nadir gets to be one of the few cases where the author did. Taken on its own Dragon Woods is a game where the good constantly battles the bad and I feel like the overall outcome is subjective enough that I can't give a definitive answer on whether others would enjoy it as much as I did. However, if you've enjoyed any of Nadir's later games, whether we're talking about the highly polished Frost or simply the Dizzy conversions, I think it's worth going back to this one. Nadir lays the groundwork in Dragon Woods that flourishes in his later titles. Attempting to understand Nadir's time in the ZZT community as a whole, Dragon Woods is an immensely important title that reveals quite a lot about the kinds of worlds he made and the decisions contained within.

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