Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM) is a roguelike video game, designed and developed by Thomas Biskup, which was first released in 1994. The player’s goal is to stop the forces of Chaos that invade the world of Ancardia.
Ancient Domains of Mystery takes place in the fictional world of Ancardia, in the mountainous Drakalor Chain. For 6,000 years, it has known relative peace, but recently reports have spread of the appearance of dangerous dungeons and frightening monsters. Khelavaster, a wise sage, discovers an ancient prophecy regarding the Coming of Chaos and propagates it to the peoples of the world. It speaks of a champion who will defend the world from the forces of Chaos in the Drakalor Chain. Hearing of this prophecy, many would-be heroes set out. The player assumes control of one such adventurer.
Ancient Domains of Mystery presents an initial choice of one (male or female) player character from twelve races and twenty-two character classes, the combination of which strongly affects gameplay, in both subtle and obvious ways. Among other traits, character development includes experience levels, statistics, and skills. Version 1.1.0 introduced a talent system, allowing further customization of characters, based on a hierarchical system of prerequisites.
During adventures, a player is likely to explore many areas and complete multiple quests. Which quests are available may depend on character experience level or alignment (lawful, neutral, or chaotic). Alignment also affects NPC and deity interaction with the character. How one solves a quest can also affect one’s alignment, such that a chaotic character seeking redemption can eventually become lawful through his or her actions (or vice versa).
Ancient Domains of Mystery offers multiple ways of winning, which vary in difficulty. The regular ending that appeared first in Ancient Domains of Mystery development, consists of locating and closing the gate through which the chaos forces infiltrate the game world Ancardia. The player also has the option to enter the gate, providing access to special endings, which are generally considered more difficult to accomplish. Ancient Domains of Mystery’s quest-centric, plot-driven structure owes as much to adventure games like Zork as to the hack-and-slash of sibling games like Angband.
The forces of chaos that have infiltrated Ancardia corrupt both the surrounding landscape and occasionally the player’s character, causing mutations, such as antennae or a tail growing on the player character. Some mutations are helpful, while others make the game much harder; many have elements of both. Players need to be resourceful and adaptable due to the randomness of these mutations. While there are limited opportunities in the game to mitigate or remove corruption effects, taking too long to close the chaos gate causes the corruption rate to increase dramatically. After becoming fully corrupted, the game ends, as the character has become a “writhing mass of primal chaos”. The chaotic ending requires the character to be almost fully corrupted.
Besides background corruption, some powerful chaotic artifacts can cause the character to become corrupted merely by carrying them. Other, less powerful chaotic artifacts only corrupt when actively invoked or wielded. Generally, most artifacts and magic items are safe to carry and use, and only the most powerful items affect corruption rates.
Herbs growing on some levels can be used to provide great benefits to the player. The growth of the herbs follows a slight modification of Conway’s Game of Life. While any character can harvest these herbs to limited effect, characters with certain skills and class abilities have strong bonuses and can even plant their own herb seeds. Besides herbs, characters can also collect plant seeds, either to donate to farmers (for a small alignment shift to law) or plant in dungeons, to grow trees (useful for making bridges or fletching).
Players can improve their items through various methods, such as smithing or magical enhancement. Similarly, many items can be damaged or destroyed as a result of combat or other hazards. While special artifacts can not be damaged or destroyed, they are also immune to any form of improvement. This presents a dilemma to characters who specialize in smithing: should they use powerful artifacts or enhanced items of their own design? It is possible for a patient, highly skilled smith to enhance weapons and armor to levels beyond that of most artifacts, but the time required leave the character exposed to corruption.
A “Monster Memory” records the character’s (not the player’s) knowledge about creatures in the game, becoming increasingly detailed as the player defeats more of each monster. Statistics such as hit points, experience value, and speed are revealed, with corresponding observed highs, lows, and averages. Besides the in-game statistics, fan-submitted descriptions of every monster in the game are presented, sometimes with hints on strengths and weaknesses.
No matter how powerful players get, there is always a way for them to die if they become careless. In rare cases, instant deaths are possible from using cursed equipment or gaining the “doomed” intrinsic. Some monsters have powerful abilities that need specific counters, necessitating a change in strategy from traditional roguelike games. Some items have powerful effects on monsters. Undead beings are burnt to ash by holy symbols, and chaos beings are badly hurt by thrown potions of cure corruption. Strengths and weaknesses are often revealed in the monster memory and through rumors.
Death of player characters is meant to be permanent. The game exits after saving, effectively limiting savefiles to one per character, and the savefile is erased upon loading.