Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Oubliette: Blessedly Difficult

I've been playing Oubliette here and there, between Moria and various and sundry console games, and I have good news to report: it's too damned hard, so I won't be getting bogged down in it for any great length of time. Difficult games don't normally bother me, and I think that the solid year I spent trying to finish The Game of Dungeons v8 is a testament to that. I have to make a rule for games that are primarily intended for multiplayer, though. For those games, if the difficulty is too steep, I'll play them for a bit and move on.  My list is long enough, and I need to draw a line somewhere.

(As a general preference, I prefer single-player games anyway.  That's not to say I don't like multiplayer; some of the most fun I've ever had gaming has been with friends.  I'm not a big fan of on-line multiplayer, though.  If I'm playing with other people, I want them in the room, if only so that I may witness the breaking of their spirits in person.  On-line multiplayer doesn't do a lot for me, for which I'm grateful; MMORPGs are a rabbit-hole that I'm glad to have avoided.)

There's no doubt in my mind that Oubliette is balanced for multiplayer, and is nigh-impossible to survive for any significant length of time with just one character. I suppose that I could get another cyber1 sign-on and test it out, but multiplayer games ain't what I'm here for. My current plan is to map level 1 of the dungeon, testing the various classes as I do so, and after that to move on.  The level is large enough that exploring it fully should give me a decent chance to try out the game's many options.

I see this a lot.

I've lost track of how many characters I've sent to their deaths in this game. Of the classes that I've tried, Hirebrands and Clerics seem to last the longest. I haven't tested all of the classes yet, because the list you get to pick from is dependent on race, gender and statistics, and it's hard to know exactly what's needed for the more exotic types. Hirebrands, Thieves, Clerics and Mages aren't difficult to qualify for, and pretty much anybody can be a Peasant (though I'm not sure why you would want to be).  Your class determines which weapons and armour you can use, and what spells you have available; I'm sure there are other differences that aren't so obvious, but I'm yet to figure those out (and I doubt that I will in the time I'll be playing the game).

As far as statistics go, a high Constitution is a must (for hit points), and a high Dexterity also seems to be important, as it determines how easy it is for monsters to surprise you, as well as how often you are able to act in battle. It's not uncommon for beginning characters to be surprised and killed without ever getting a chance to react, so obviously a high Dex is crucial.

I've developed a routine for new characters. My first destination is Corwin's General Store, where I supply them with whatever arms and armour I can.  Most new character start with something in the vicinity of 60 gold pieces, which is enough to buy a weapon and maybe some armour. The choice of weapons is limited (daggers, maces, short swords, axes, hammers,clubs, and the legendary pointed stick) and there are three types of armour: leather, chain and plate.  In addition you can buy shields and helmets, as well as an array of random gear ranging from cloaks to boot to the intriguing Golden Diaper +3. Normally I can afford one weapon (usually the mace or short sword depending on my class) and maybe a shield. Treasure is plentiful in the dungeon, and it only takes one successful foray before I can return and purchase some plate mail and a helmet.

What is that mystery item at the end for 1gp?

Once I have a weapon and some armour, I'll buy torches if I need to.  The dungeon is dark, and impossible to navigate without a light source of some sort.  Some races have Infravision, the ability to see in the dark: dwarves, orcs, hobgoblins, and presumably a number of others I've not played yet. These races have been my favourites to play so far, because not only is it nice to not have to worry about torches, but Infravision lets you see one square ahead, whereas torches only illuminate the square you're standing in. Mapping with torches is a pain. Magical light is even better than torches, but I'll write more about spells lower down.

After buying equipment I head to the On the House Used Monster Shop, where a follower can be obtained for free. I normally go for a Stone Giant or a Pyrohydra, for maximum hit points and killing power. I tried getting a high-level cleric, hoping that I'd be able to use his spells, but either it's not possible or I wasn't able to figure out how. A follower is necessary for any kind of survival, and meat shields are nice, but I'd really like to have a healer. I still feel like there's a catch to using this store, though. Why would they be giving me monsters for free? It seems to good to be true, and I'm sure that I'm missing something.

After that, I head into the dungeon to start mapping. The first-person 3D view is very reminiscent of Moria, but the view is larger.  The dungeon levels are 29x29 squares, which isn't excessively large, but it is big enough to make the process time-consuming. At first my maps showed that there would be plenty of unused space, but eventually I found some secret doors (by walking into walls) and it became apparent that every square would be used. There are pits scattered around that deal roughly 1-10 points of damage. There are also a number of navigational tricks introduced here for the first time in CRPGs that will go on to plague gamers in the 1980s: teleporters, squares that extinguish your light sources, and "spinners" (squares that randomly change the direction you're facing). It reminds me very much of Bard's Tale and Wizardry, and there's more to come on that.  (Given this game's obvious influence on Wizardry and Wizardry's influence on CRPGs in general - particularly those from Japan - it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Oubliette is the most influential of all the PLATO CRPGs.)

Combat is plentiful and quick. I've been fighting a who's who of the AD&D Monster Manual - goblins, orcs, giant centipedes, skeletons, and even some low-level fighters, clerics, thieves and magic-users. It's a large variety of monsters, rivalled only by Moria so far, but I suspect that the monsters in Oubliette offer more in the way of special abilities. Already I've been poisoned by a giant centipede (which drained 1 hit point per step), and come up against some Shadows which I was unable to hit with regular weapons.  (This is consistent with AD&D.)  Some monsters are found in small groups, and others - such as goblins - might be found in packs of 15.

The main problem with combat is that, unless you're playing a spellcaster, your options are limited: you can Fight, Hide or Evade.  (You can also scream for help, but that's not very useful without other players around.) Hiding doesn't always work, but when it does it allows you to avoid being attacked by enemies and let your companions finish them off; it's probably great as part of a group, especially for Thieves. Evade lets you run away, but most of the time I haven't been able to do so successfully. Fight is your basic melee attack, and most battles are spent pressing F over and over as you trade blows. Your Dexterity determines how quickly you get to act in relation to your enemies: I had one character who was attacking three or four times before the other side got their turn. It also seems to me that the monsters only attack you one at a time, perhaps due to narrow tunnels or some such justification. Whatever it is, it makes the game at least vaguely survivable.

Getting the drop on two kobolds (which are depicted with an icon straight out of Moria).

With those limited options, though, Oubliette is pretty much nothing but a game of chance for a solo character. You might survive for a while with a suitably strong character (one with a lot of hit points and a high Dex), but eventually it will go against you. And that's just on dungeon level 1, with basic monsters; I imagine things get even hairier on the lower levels. Spells might make a difference, but most of the spellcasting classes don't begin with enough hit points to survive for long, so I haven't had much of a chance to experiment. Taking a look at the Help file, I think I need to try out the Ranger class, as it has good fighting ability and can cast both Magic-User and Cleric spells. It's difficult to qualify for, but it looks to be worth it.

Magic is another part of the game that is reminiscent of Wizardry in particular.  The spell selection is pure AD&D, but every spell has it's own name derived from a consistent set of syllables each with their own meaning.  The sleep spell, for example, is called NARGOR (meaning not-thought) , fireball is FIEMINAT (meaning fire-opening), cure light wounds is KOMINAH (meaning close-opening), and so on  And if you doubt the influence this game had on Wizardry, the light spell is named DUMAPIC, just like the location spell in that game.  Spells are split into separate lists for Clerics and Magic-Users (with the Cleric list focused on healing and the magic-user list on offense), and the spells are also organised by level, with the least powerful spells at first level and the most at level 7.  Every time you cast a spell in Oubliette you need to type in the full name, which can get a bit irritating, especially in combat. It's necessary, at least when starting out, to have a cheat sheet with the spell names written down on it for reference. The only one I've used with any regularity is MORPIC, the Cleric's light spell, which has greater range than a regular torch and Infravision, and also reveals secret doors.

Uhhh, in English please?

Sometimes after combat you will find a treasure chest, and can inspect it for traps, which can THEN be disarmed. As with spell-casting, you need to type in the complete name of the trap to be disarmed, and even if you get it right there's no guarantee you'll be successful. I've encountered Sprinklers (which put out your light source), Teleporters, Poison-Needles, Stunners, and a bunch of others I'm forgetting.  Apparently there's even a trap that changes your gender, which is Gary Gygax as hell. Again, this is exactly like Bard's Tale (and possibly Wizardry, which I'm not as familiar with). The similarities are inescapable.

So far, I've only had one character that survived for more than about 15 minutes - a Hobgoblin hirebrand named Hobgob (I'm expending minimum effort on names, due to the game's high mortality rate).  I'm not sure what level I reached with him (as I can't find where the game displays character level), but I estimate that I was level 5 or 6, as I had 59 hit points.  I spent a long time angsting about not being able to figure out how to level up, only for the game to do it for me automatically when I returned to the Castle. (Or perhaps it was when I returned to my guild, I'm not sure.)  I had become virtually immune to combat by the time I had 40 hit points, aside from the aforementioned Shadows which I had to run away from. Traps were my biggest worry, especially pit traps - those are often strategically placed to be unavoidable, and I never figured out a way to cross them without taking damage. In the end I was killed by a Poison-Needle trap on a chest; most chests on dungeon level 1 aren't trapped at all, but this one got me, and I wasn't able to make it back to the castle before I died.

Oh, he was level 6, it says it right there.

To be honest, I was relieved when Hobgob died, as I was starting to believe that, with enough grinding, I'd have a decent chance of survival. Perhaps that's still the case, but I don't aim to find out. I'm going to finish my level 1 map, and get the hell out. I don't even have to feel that guilty about it, because the single-player version for Commodore 64 will come up on my list eventually. When it does, I'll tackle that game with greater diligence. As for the PLATO version of Oubliette, I'll be happy to leave it in the dust after another post or two.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Oubliette (1977)

After far too long, I'm starting another game for the blog.  That doesn't mean that I'm done with Moria. Far from it; I'll still be plugging away at that monstrosity in the background, but there's little more that I can say about it.  It'll get another post once I'm finished with it, and in the mean-time I'll be pushing ahead and playing more games from 1977 and 1978.

There's always a sense of excitement that comes with starting a new game, but this time around it's mixed with quite a bit of trepidation.  Oubliette is another PLATO RPG, and as readers of the blog will know the last few of those have consumed my life.  I really don't want to get bogged down in another one, and I really don't want to be bogged down in two at the same time.  The good news is that Oubliette is nowhere near as large as Moria. (At 240-odd large dungeon levels, few games are.)

  
Castles seem to be the standard thing to put on your PLATO title screen

Oubliette was created primarily by Jim Schwaiger, and released on PLATO in November 1977. Like most PLATO games it was in continuous development for a number of years, with changes being made to it up through 1982. I have no idea what differences there might be between the game as it was in 1977, and the 1982 version. Presumably the one on cyber1 - which is the one I'm playing - is the version from 1982.  The game was later released on home computers, and even on iphone (as the title screen above indicates). I'll cover the home computer release when I get to it in the timeline, but needless to say I'll probably never get to the iphone version.

Oubliette is a dungeon exploration game that is viewed from a first-person perspective. The game is intended for multiple players, who each control a single character and interact within a shared environment. It can be played as a single-player game, but survival is difficult, and the intention is that characters will band together to form parties before braving the depths. As far as I can tell, there's no goal to be achieved in Oubliette: characters simply band together to explore the dungeon for treasure, and presumably the multiplayer interaction and competition was incentive enough to keep people interested. It's a relief, to be honest; I can drop this game at any time without feeling like I've missed something.

Beginning the game, with my character standing on the stairs to the dungeon.

Character creation is more complex than anything that's been seen to this point.  The first step is to choose from one of 15 races.  The standard D&D races are there, along with some from Tolkien (Uruk-Hai, Eldar), some monsters (Ogre, Pixie, Goblin, Hobgoblin, Kobold), and one pulled from Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series (Ur-Vile), which is surprising considering that the first book of that series had only been released a year prior.

Following that your attributes are determined, and they're the standard six from Dungeons & Dragons: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, Constitution, and Dexterity. The race you chose earlier determines the range for each of these attributes.  Your gender is also randomly determined here, which seems an odd thing to leave to chance. You can reroll as many times as you like until you get a character that you like.

Once you've accepted your attributes, you choose an Alignment from one of three: Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic. Some races will have restrictions here (for example, I created an Orc character that could not choose Lawful). I'm not sure what effect this has on the game at this point, except to affect what class you can choose in the next step.

Choosing a class comes next, and there are fifteen in the game: cleric, demondim (another one from Thomas Covenant), courtesan, hirebrand, mage, minstrel, ninja, paladin, peasant, ranger, raver (Covenant again), thief, sage, samurai, and valkyrie. The classes available to you are determined by race, class, and alignment. The unusual classes are harder to qualify for, whereas pretty much anyone can be a peasant.

Creating a character. Even with good stats like these, I only have a few classes to choose from.

Once a class is chosen, you get the option of starting in the castle or the dungeon. I always opt for the castle, and I'm not sure why you'd choose differently; starting in the dungeon with no gear or followers is basically suicide.

LIGNE Castle is the hub of the game, where characters can stock up on supplies, form parties, and do all sorts of other cool stuff. It's big - 29x29 squares - and there are tons of things to do. I'll hit some highlights below:

  • There's a separate guild for every class, and you need to join one in order to level up.  You can increase your guild rank by making donations, but there's no indication of how much is needed. I donated about 1,000 gold pieces with my first character, and my rank was still 0.  Once you have a ranking of 1 you can hire a companion that will follow you free of charge, but should that companion die your rank drops by one.
  • There are shops where you can buy charmed monsters, ranging from lowly kobolds right up to Orcus himself. There's even a shop where you can get these monsters for free, though I suspect that there's a catch with this that I haven't twigged to yet. These monsters stay with you until you rest, but you can get around that by selling them back to the shop then buying them back later on.

Obtaining a charmed monster for free.

  • Hotels where you can rest and recover lost hit points. You can rest anywhere in the castle, but it's quicker to do so in a hotel (and I'm pretty sure that character's age in this game, so time is a factor).
  • Taverns, which are the place where you go to join up with other adventurers and form parties. (Because even this far back, it was understood that all adventures begin in a tavern.)
  • Corwin's General Store, where you buy weapons, armour, torches and holy water.  Torches are valuable, because you need them to see in the dungeon unless you choose a race that can see in the dark. This is the main reason that I chose a dwarf as my initial character.
  • Merlin's Magic Shoppe, where you can buy and sell magic items. Items to buy are listed by category. You type in the category you want, and you get a list of available items with nothing to differentiate them but price. What you're buying is a mystery; presumably the more expensive the better, but I haven't bought anything yet so it's impossible to say.
  • There's a Jail where you can look for character's by name. It's not clear how you end up in jail, or what you can do should you find the character you're looking for.
  • Hidden in an out-of-the-way spot is the Patriarch's Temple, but said Patriarch will only see you if you make a donation. According to the documentation he can help identify magic items, but I haven't tested this out yet (nor have I actually found any magic items).
  • The Morgue is another place where you can search for character's by name. I understand that you can find the corpses of dead characters in the dungeon and return them to the city; this is probably where they go if you don't have the gold or the desire to resurrect them.
  • You can visit Kesim's Casino and gamble on blackjack, craps or cockroach racing. These Are the first gambling mini-games in CRPGs to my knowledge, and the cockroach racing is delightfully odd. It's a good place to build up your gold before buying weapons, I've found.

Winning money on the roaches.

  • Brand's Potion Shop, where you can buy various potions and scrolls. When your basic healing potion costs around 70,000gp, though, the prices are probably too high.
  • Honest John's Bank and Trust. I haven't done anything here yet, but I can only assume that you can deposit and withdraw gold here. (I can't check right now, because cyber1 is down for backups.) I need to come back here to check if I'm able to rob the bank.
  • Ghenghis' Army Recruiter, which is a mystery. There's a sign that says it's closed due to budget cuts, and there's nothing else that can be done here.

With the city mapped, monster companion recruited (a pyrohydra), and armaments purchased, it was time for me to take Axebeard the Dwarf into the dungeon.   I did quite well for a while, surviving a number of battles and forays.  The monsters that I encountered were the usual array of low-level D&D types: rats, goblins, kobolds, etc, in groups of about 6.  My character gained about 3,000 experience points, but I couldn't figure out how to level up, or even if I had enough xp to do so.  It's supposed to be done at the guild, but the option never appeared for me.

In the end, I was killed by a band of 7 kobolds.  It happened very suddenly: one second I was at full hit points, the next I was dead.  Combat was a little hard to fathom.  The word 'Options' appears under the name of the enemy, and you have a limited time to input your command (F for fight, in most cases).  A message would come up telling me if I killed an enemy (and if my charmed monster did so), then a message would flash telling me what the monsters did.  That message was very quick, and I never did get a good look at what it said.  At the moment, the combat workings are a bit of a mystery to me.

Deciding whether to delete my character or wait for someone else to retrieve his body. Odds seem slim for the latter in 2017.

The influences here are strong, and obvious.  The first is, of course, Dungeons & Dragons. More specifically, the original pre-AD&D version of the game.  The monster list makes it obvious that they're working from the AD&D Monster Manual, but there are enough references and bits of terminology that I'm confident in saying that the rest of Oubliette is based on the original D&D rules. More than any other game previous, this game emulates D&D, right down to the way that early campaigns were played.  The first D&D campaigns were run by a single referee in a single, huge dungeon, with a rotating pool of players that all explored the same location.  Oubliette emulates that exactly, and copies over a lot of the rules and monsters as well. The main deviation is in the number of races and classes, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Jim Schwaiger and his players had homebrewed all of the new types for their own campaign. It's how things were done in those days.

The other influence is Moria, which was also a first-person dungeon exploration game where you could join up with other characters. It had a large city, shops with loads of stuff to buy, guilds, characters that age, and a bunch of other similarities to Oubliette.  As far as I can tell, Oubliette takes those ideas and expands on them, providing a more varied and interesting game experience.That's my first impression, anyway; we'll see if it holds up.

I'm not setting myself any goals for Oubliette just yet; I've learned my lesson with Moria.  There aren't any goals I can set really; the game itself doesn't provide any.  It will all depend on how difficult it is.  If I find that I can survive on my own, I'll try to map out the 10-level dungeon.  If it proves to be too deadly, I'll play it for a few weeks and then move on.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Games of Summer: 2016-2017

I've done one of these posts over the last few holiday seasons, so I figured I might as well make it an annual tradition. Usually summer finds me playing a lot of games, but not doing much in the way of writing and blogging. This year was no different. These are the games that have been keeping me occupied, and holding up the blog.

Final Fantasy 1 and 2: Smartphones are great for portable gaming, but I find that most modern phone games don't really do it for me. So rather than limit myself to what's available on the Android store, I downloaded a NES emulator and have been running through the first two games in the Final Fantasy series.  The first game is a cracker. It draws heavily from Ultima and Wizardry, and provides a really complete RPG experience for 1987. I can't think of any areas that it's weak in, to be honest, and it avoids a lot of the over-linearity that plagues later JRPGs. Final Fantasy 2 (I'm playing a fan translation of the Japanese game, which was never officially released in English in its original form) has much more of a story focus, and although the combat and magic are similar the character advancement is completely different (FF1 had classes and levels, whereas FF2 has skills that level up through use). It's refreshingly open world - my first foray into the wilderness ended when I wandered into an area full of monsters that I had no business fighting yet. It's not as immediately enjoyable as FF1, and I'm starting to lose my grip on the story a bit, but there's a lot of potential.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: I'm a bit of a Zelda nut, but I'd taken a fairly long hiatus from the series after Wind Waker (which I loved). I spent much of the early part of last year completing Twilight Princess (which is good but too long) and now I'm trying to wrap up Skyward Sword before the new game comes out. I like it, but it's lacking a lot of the exploratory fun of the older games in the series. There's also a lot of backtracking, and it can get tedious playing through the same areas over again. The motion controls for sword-fighting are really well done, though. There's a lot of clever stuff in this game, but it doesn't really give me what I'm looking for in a Zelda.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Recently I got bitten by the retro collector bug, as well as the authenticity bug, so I acquired an old CRT television. Now I have my old consoles ready to hook up to it, and I'm planning to play through all of my childhood games before building up my collection. I decided to start with Ocarina, mostly because I couldn't find the cord to my Super Nintendo which meant that I wasn't able to play A Link to the Past. (Yes, A Link to the Past is better than Ocarina of Time. Why is this even a debate?) Ocarina basically ruled my life for a good chunk of the late 90s, and I remember it very well. I thought I'd discovered everything in it, but this time around I'm still finding new stuff. It's a little ropier than I remembered, but then again it is nearly 20 years old. It holds up remarkably well.

I've also been watching quite a bit of FIFA '17, as my son plays it a lot, as well as playing Moria of course.  This might seem like a lot of games to have on the go simultaneously, but it's not so bad.  I have a phone game for when I'm out of the house, a game connected to the main home TV, a game to play on my CRT when the main TV is being used, and a game to play on my laptop for the blog.  I'm just covering all of my bases.

As for Moria, I have a character who just became Guild Master of the Circle of Wizards, the second time I've achieved that mark. I might be jinxing myself here, but I'm making good progress. I've also started on Oubliette, another PLATO RPG, so expect a post on that fairly soon.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Moria: Equipment and Treasure

There are moments in life where there's nothing you can do except stare vacantly, with a stunned expression on your face. These moment might be surprising, or shocking, or perhaps even traumatic, but however you got there it's so overwhelming that your body freezes, and your brain locks up, and the only sensation you feel is a slow lurching of your stomach as the reality of the situation sinks in.

I just had a moment like that while playing Moria.

For regular readers of the blog (assuming that I have any left after my long hiatus) this will be a familiar story: I'd started over with a new character, and I was slowly grinding his stats upwards until I felt confident enough to explore the deepest levels of the dungeon.  Then disaster struck, and I died once again. My previous failures, however, had come at the hands of monsters, or perhaps my own impatience. This one was inflicted on me by the game itself.

I'm playing Moria through a PLATO emulator, which means that I need to be connected to the internet. The dangers of that are obvious: the internet is an unstable beast, and drop-outs occur from time to time. For a game with perma-death that could be game-breaking, but what I've found with all of the PLATO games I've played so far is that the games take this into account. All of them so far, without fail, have saved my character's status and location during a drop-out, and I've had no trouble logging back in and picking up where I left off.

Until now, that is (or some time in January to be more accurate; this post has been a long time coming). PLATO was running particularly slowly that night, and I'd already experienced a couple of drop-outs. After about the fourth of fifth, I cracked the shits with it and rebooted my system, hoping that it might help. At which point my computer had to install some updates, because I never turn the bloody thing off. So half an hour later I load up Moria again, and cue the stunned shock because my character was gone. Dead, gone, gonzo, wrap it up, nothing to be done about it but start over from scratch.

And when I say start over from scratch, I really mean it. I've lost strong characters before, but starting over wasn't so bad then because I had built up a hefty list of powerful weapons and armour in my guild locker that could be passed down to my next character. Whenever I died I would just create another guy right away, and all of those goodies would be passed down to him. It's a good leg-up that makes the initial grinding process much more survivable. Well, this time the contents of my guild locker were gone. Your gear only gets passed down if you create a new character right away, and I must have taken too long. I was back to fighting naked with a club.

I'm not really sure how this death happened. It can't be because I took too long to log back in; I've gone days before getting back to it in similar situations. It can't be because I was in the middle of combat; I've had drop-outs in the middle of fights before, and the fight has effectively paused until I came back. Maybe it was a combination of these two factors? Maybe it was a freak occurrence? I'd like to blame the PLATO emulator, but I've been playing games on it regularly for nearly three years, and this is the first time I've had this problem. I think that's a pretty good track record.

I've got to admit, this is the closest I've come to throwing this game in. I'd be justified, I think: I've made the Hall of Fame, and I've become the master of a guild. I can't do it, though. The Reaper's Ring would haunt my dreams forever. I have to find it. So yes, once again I'm grinding away with WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling in the background. The treadmill of life goes on.

(I wanted to put a shot of the death screen in here, but I've never captured one, and I'm not about to try.)

On that cheery note, it's time for my final special post on Moria: equipment and treasure. This might be a big one, because it covers a number of topics, and is probably the most extensively detailed part of the game.

Armour & Weapons
Buying new weapons and armour is your main path to getting stronger in combat, and there are a lot of them in this game. They come in five categories: 2-handed weapons, 1-handed weapons (including shields), Body, Head, Arms, and Miscellaneous. Each item in these categories has a rating for Attack and Defense.

You start off only being able to wield a 2-handed weapon, because you can't use 1-handed weapons until you have a Valor score of 15. 1-handed weapons start out about the same as 2-handed, but they range up to an Offensive rating of 30, whereas 2-handed weapons cap out at 21. You can also use a shield with a 1-handed weapon, which is a big Defensive boost. Once your Valor reaches 30 you can wield two 1-handed weapons at once, which is the best way to boost your Offensive rating; it doesn't have much of an adverse effect on Defense either, because the better weapons boost that score too. Weapons range from daggers (with an Offensive rating of 3 and a cost of about 150 gold) to Tridents (Offensive 30, Defensive 10, cost of over 1 million gold).

Body armour is purely defensive, and again caps out with a Defensive score of 30 for the Cloak of Death. There are only three types of armour for Arms, with Gauntlets being the best (as they provide an Offensive bonus to go along with the Defensive). Similarly there are only four pieces of Head armour, with the best being the Helmet of Life (Defensive rating 24). There's only one miscellanous item, and that's the purely defensive Holy Sash.

All of the various types of weapons and armour (91 in total) can be bought at the Weaponry stores in the City. As you may have noticed, they can get expensive: the best items can cost over 1 million gold. Between these and the guild fees for advancement, it takes a long time until gold becomes worthless in the game. (It happens eventually, but at that point I felt like I was pretty close to finishing the whole thing.)

All of the one-handed weapons and shields

You can also find armour and weapons after winning a battle. There's no apparent rhyme or reason to when they show up. It seems just as likely that you'll find an item on level 1 of the dungeons as on level 50, and the same goes for the strength of the items as well. Once I found a Helmet of Life within about ten minutes of starting a new character. I can't say for certain, but the sense I get is that any item could show up at any time in the game, and it's all down to luck (although apparently members of the Thieves' Guild will find them more often).

Haggling
As mentioned, some of the items cost more the 1 million gold. Now here's a quandary: your character can't carry more than 1 million at a time. (I discovered this the hard way, when I sold a gold nugget for about 800,000 gold when I already had over 900,000.) That's where haggling comes in. Whether buying or selling, you can negotiate the price with the shopkeeper, suggesting totals or refusing their offers until you hit on a total you're happy with (or the shopkeeper gives up). Generally you can sell an item for about triple the initial asking price, or buy an item for about three-quarters of the initial price. It's a fun mechanic at the beginning of the game, but when you end up doing it for every single purchase (for months and months on end) it gets really tedious. I would have preferred them just to price things lower and be done with the rigmarole.

Negotiating the price of a trident.

Treasure
Most monsters will leave a treasure chest containing gold and jewels after a battle. (Curiously, the priest-class monsters are the ones that most often leave no treasure behind.) Most of the treasure you find is in gold pieces, but there are also gems with a greater value; pearls are worth 150gp, rubies are worth 800gp, emeralds are worth 4,000gp and diamonds are worth 20,000gp. The total value of treasure found increases the deeper you delve into the dungeons. Every now and then you'll get drops that are much higher than the normal value (say, 25,000 gold in an area where I would normally get 1,000). Rarely (and I mean very rarely) you might find a Gold Nugget or a Precious Stone. I've found three of these treasures in the whole time I've been playing, and they all sold for upwards of 500,000 gold.

I should mention that the chests are sometimes trapped, and there's no way of knowing.  You just have to open the chest and hope.  The most damage I've ever seen a chest trap inflict was 49, so I make sure that my Vitality is over 50 before opening one.  There's no other way to avoid being killed.

Taking the spoils from an opened chest.

Magic Items
In addition to dropping treasure and armaments, monsters occasionally leave behind magic items. These are items that all have some sort of special effect. I'll list the ones I've found below. The effects I've listed are my best guess in some cases; it's impossible to know what they do except through trial and error, and even then it's a mystery. I've done my best.

  • Torch: Simply put, it's an item that casts a Light spell. Casting Light costs a negligible amount of Vitality, and lasts practically forever, so I never found a use for these.
  • Aura of Light: Again, this one casts a Light spell. I couldn't find a difference between this and the Torch (except that this one can be sold for more gold).
  • Ring of Valor: I never did figure out what this ring does. My assumption is that it gives a bonus to Valor, but there's no way to tell. I keep them when I find them, but I have no idea if it's worth it.
  • Treasure Ring: I could be wrong, but I think this item cast the Treasure Finding spell when used. I find that spell pointless: all it does is tell you whether or not a group of monsters has any treasure. I make it a point to kill every monster I find, so I have no need for it.
  • Ring of Flight: You might think that this one gives you the power to fly, but in actual fact it increases your chance of fleeing from combat. Escaping is a necessary part of this game, so a Ring of Flight is a great item to have: I found that when I had one it never took me more than two tries to get away. (At least until I hit Level 52 of the dungeon, and a battle that I just couldn't run from no matter how many times I tried; I'm thinking that this item contributed to my death by making me overconfident.)
  • Life Ring: The best magic item in the game: when I was wearing it, I found that monsters did a little bit less damage. Some blows would even restore my character's Vitality, which was a great help. I can't be sure about it, but what I noticed was that more Vitality would be restored the longer I went without being hit; if I was hit two rounds in a row, the Life Ring had no effect on the second hit, but if I went four rounds without being hit the next hit would do four fewer points of damage. This and the Ring of Flight are the two items that I most want to find again.

There's no limit to the amount of magic items that you can equip (except for the overall limit of twelve items that your character can carry, which includes weapons and armour). Unwanted magic items can be sold at the Magic Store in the City, and haggled over just like weaponry. You can't buy magic items, unfortunately, and the ones that you sell are gone forever.

Magic Apples
Magic Apples are found at random in the dungeons, and have a variety of effects if you eat them. (Now that I think of it, it's possible that the other dungeons have replaced Apples with another item. I've been exclusively exploring the Forest, so I have no idea.) These effects are:

  • Casting a spell: The apple casts any one of the non-combat magic spells: Light, Protection or Locate Treasure.
  • Negating a spell: If you have one of the above three spells functioning, eating the apple will negate it. It's a minor nuisance.
  • Restoring Vitality: The apple restores your Vitality back to 100, which is a nice time-saver, but as you'll see that's utterly negated by the following effect.
  • Reducing Vitality: These apples drain your Vitality, and are the main reason that I always wait until my health is full before I eat an apple. (That's the negation I was talking about above; the healing saves time, but I've probably just waited to heal up anyway before eating the apple.) I've had apples that reduced me from a Vitality of 100 to one of 4, so I always use extreme caution. I've never had one take me from 100 to 0, but I occasionally get anxious about the possibility.
  • Reducing Stats: The apple takes away 1 or 2 points from your Valor, Piety, Cunning or Wizardry. It's irritating, especially when you're trying to grind them up.
  • Raising Stats: As above, but the apple adds a point to one of the four stats. This is literally the only thing worth eating magic apples for.

I go back and forth on whether to eat the magic apples or not. Of the six different effects, two of them are actively harmful and three are pointless. I still like to take a gamble on getting a small stat boost, but it's not worth the risk of losing points, or being killed. Currently, I've stopped eating them, except on rare occasions when my health is completely full when I find one.

So, that's it for Moria, at least as far as special posts go. I've covered the game in about as much depth as I'm capable of, and I doubt that I'll do another post until my eventual victory. (Yes, eventual. Shut it, you.)  In the meantime, it's back to my list, which will hopefully make things around here a bit more interesting. Here are the upcoming games:

  1. Oubliette (1977) - Another PLATO RPG (boooo). I understand that this one is heavily reliant on multiplayer, though, so I might be able to knock it out in a single post and move on. Here's hoping.
  2. A3 (1978) - The second text adventure created using Wander. It's a sci-fi number that at first glance comes across as quite sophisticated for the time.
  3. House of Seven Gables (1978) - Another text adventure joint from Greg Hassett, the 12-year-old prodigy.
  4. Acheton (1978) - A British text adventure that I've seen described as "enormous". Joy.
  5. King Tut's Tomb Adventure (1978) - Yet another game by Greg Hassett! Did that kid even go to school?
  6. Library (1978) - The third game created using Wander.
  7. Stuga (1978) - A swedish text adventure, which translates to "The Cottage". Sounds riveting!
  8. MUD1 (1978) - The first ever text-based "multi-user dungeon". I'm probably going to ignore multi-player games, but I'd like to take a look at this one out of historical curiosity.
  9. Treasure Hunt (1978) - Sounds like a variant of Hunt the Wumpus.
  10. Mystery Mansion (1978) - A murder mystery text adventure

That takes me to the end of 1978. That's a long run of adventure games in a row, which is the unfortunate side-effect of not really planning ahead. To be honest, it will be a welcome relief from the unrelenting slog of PLATO RPGs. And many of them will probably be short. Hopefully I can start making some headway, and actually get to some games that sane, living people have played.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Moria: Monsters

This game.

This goddamn game.

Okay, so I'm irritated with Moria, but really what I really should be typing is "my goddamn self", because I need to quit.  I need to quit, put this game behind me, move on to other games and never think of Moria again.  I could be playing something good.  Better yet, I could be playing something short.  But no, I'm still trying to beat the goals I set for myself in Moria, and could be doing so for months to come.

As you might have guessed, my character Robilar died.  Worse, he died when I was super-close to my goal.  I wanted to reach Level 50 of the Forest so that I could search for the Reaper's Ring, but I was killed by a Fire Elemental on Level 52.  (I was on a lower level than my target because I found stairs on Level 47 that went down multiple levels, and I was trying to make my way back up.)  I don't feel as though I made a mistake.  I was following my usual routine, cycling through the various attack forms, and when my Vitality dropped below 40 I tried to run away as usual.  And I failed.  And I failed again.  I failed over and over, while this group of Fire Elementals burned me to death.  It had been literally weeks since it took more than two attempts to run from a battle, so I don't know what the hell happened here.  Perhaps the difficulty level of the monsters ramps up after Level 50.

To my credit, I didn't miss a beat in creating another character and starting over.  My new character inherited a load of great items from my previous guy's guild locker, which has made surviving the early stages of the game really easy.  For the last week I've been grinding to get my stats back to a respectable level, and soon I'll head back into the Forest and try to make it to Level 50.  The good news is that I have the maps, so getting there won't take nearly as long.  Unless I die again.  Without the enforced patience that map-making provides, it's going to be hard not to descend too quickly.

To end this update on a more positive note, I completed my second goal and became the guild master of the Circle of Wizards.


There was nothing to it: once my Wizardry was higher than that of the previous guild master, I went to the guild and got the above message.  The only benefit of being the guild master seems to be getting another attack with your primary stat.  When casting spells, I could kill up to five monsters per round.  Other than that, nothing, which is a shame.  Still, it was nice to check off goal #2.  Now all I need to do is find that Reaper's Ring, and I'm done.  I may just throw an actual real-life party when that happens.

Now let's turn our attention from the fact of my death to the monsters that have been inflicting said death.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, the monsters encountered are different depending on which dungeon you're in; because I've spent the vast majority of my time in the Forest there are a decent number of monsters that I've never encountered.  At first they're encountered solo, but gradually their numbers increase the deeper you explore the dungeons.  They also start appearing in multiple groups, up to a maximum of three types at once.  I don't know if there's a cap on the number of monsters that can appear in each group.  I got to level 52, and was encountering groups with up to 15 monsters in them.  The dungeons have 60 levels each, so I can't imagine that the group sizes would get much larger.  The monsters definitely get stronger as well, but it's difficult to say by how much, because all of the number are invisible.  All I had to gauge it on was the damage dealt by my magic missile spells; by level 52, I was casting spells that dealt over 100 points of damage that monsters were surviving.  At the beginning that number was much lower (around 15-20), and it gradually increased as I descended dungeon levels.

There are eight categories of monster in Moria.  I'm just going to show the lists for each type, and write a bit about my experiences with them.  You'll see below that each monster has a Level, ranging from 5 to 80.  I don't know exactly what this number represents, other than a rough guide to which monsters are the most powerful.


There's not much to the humanoids in this game; they're all bags of hit points with no particular strengths or weaknesses that I've been able to discern.  There are a bunch on this list that I've never encountered: Seekers, Fritzes (?), and Sun Warriors being the strongest.  Killer Elites are deadly to lower level characters, but even though all monsters get stronger on the deeper dungeon levels, they eventually become a negligible threat.



Of the list above, Reapers are the deadliest, and with a Level of 90 they are theoretically the deadliest monster in the game.  I can confirm that: they hit often, and do a lot of damage.  Undead, however, are all super-weak against the Holy Word prayer.  It almost always kills them instantly, which turns the most dangerous monster in the game into a pushover.  I'm not complaining.


None of the Mythical monsters are particularly dangerous.  I've had low-level characters killed by Manticores, but it's not long before they can be easily dispatched.


Again, the Animal group has some monsters that are dangerous early in the game (Slasher Worms, Nematoads) but easy to kill later on.  A lot of the monsters on this list are susceptible to the Sleep spell.  There are also a few that give you food when you kill them, Lizards and Bears in particular.


The Priest class isn't all that deadly, but it does have one monster that is the enemy of starting characters everywhere: the Iconoclast.  With a Level of 75, it's by far the strongest monster that can be encountered in the Wilderness, which is the area that beginning characters will be doing most of their grinding.  Most of my characters that didn't make it past that stage were killed by Iconoclasts, which are hard to kill and (because your Cunning score is still low at that stage) hard to run away from.  Priests are weak against Dispell Magic, but that's not helpful early on because spellcasting drains a lot of Vitality.


All of these monsters are tough, with no obvious weaknesses, and remain so for the entire game.  Nothingnesses in particular are difficult to kill, and can deal a lot of damage at once.  Battles against large groups of Elementals can last a long time, with multiple instances of running away to heal before returning.


Magic Users are almost completely immune to spells.  With one exception they're not all that hard to kill, though.  That one exception is the Wondark, which is one of the monsters I hate most in the game.  When fighting large groups of monsters, I rely on spells to clear them out quickly (using the multiple attacks gained through advancement in my guild), but that can't be done with Magic Users.  They have to be killed one by one using the other attack forms, and with Wondarks that can take a while. 


High Priests can be dangerous, but other than that the Lawful monsters aren't all that tough.  I'm not sure what makes them Lawful, in the D&D alignment sense of the word: they're just as hostile as every other monster in the game, and they pal around quite readily with them as well.  I sometimes wonder if there's a non-violent way around these fights, but then I remember how much fun it is to carve through a pack of 15 Hobbits.

Well, that's it for monsters.  I have one more post for Moria lined up, on equipment, and there's a lot to discuss on that topic.  After that, I think I'm tapped out on this game.  If I haven't found the Reaper's Ring by then, it's probably time to shift Moria into the background.  I'll keep playing it, but I won't be blogging about it.  Instead I'll move on to the next game on my list, which is Oubliette, another PLATO CRPG that may or may not eat up the better part of a year.  Huzzah?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Moria: Magic & Guilds

Before I settle in to discuss how magic and guilds work in Moria, I feel like I should give a progress report on where I am with this game, because it has ground this damn blog to standstill.  Rest assured, eventually I'll play something else.  In the meantime, this is how I'm doing:

One point away from cutting my wrists.

So yeah, I had a close shave there.  It's not the only one if I'm being honest, and any one of those moments of carelessness could have had me back at square one.  Other than those few slip-ups I've been exploring the Forest dungeon slowly but surely, and have just started mapping Level 38.

When I started this game, I set myself three goals.  The first was to make it onto the Hall of Fame's Lifetime Achievement section.  I can check this one off, because there's my character Robilar sitting 16th from the top.

I've moved up a spot since I took this screenshot.  Eat it, Genesis!

My second goal is to become the Guildmaster of my chosen guild, the Circle of Wizards.  This is done by increasing the relevant stat, in this case Wizardry.  Once that stat reaches 20 you can join your chosen guild, beginning at the rank of Apprentice.  At 30, you reach the rank of Journeyman, at 40 you reach the rank of Counselor, and at 50 you reach the rank of Master.  My score is currently a healthy 64, which makes me a Master Wizard.  (These ranks may be different based on the other three guilds - knights, thieves and clerics.  I haven't explored those options far enough to know.) In addition to gaining the necessary Wizardry, all three ranks above Apprentice required a donation of 1,000,000 gold each.  I'd initially been concerned about finding enough cash, but I needn't have worried about it: Combat is frequent, and on the deeper dungeon levels each battle reliably nets 5,000 to 10,000 gold.  It adds up.

So I've reached the rank of Master, but I'm not the Guildmaster yet.  To do that, I need to become the guild member with the highest Wizardry score.  The current Guildmaster has a Wizardry of 74, which seems difficult to get to, though not insurmountable.  My main worry here is whether this character is still active.  If it is, I'll struggle to get there.  If not, I should make it.  I've been using my spells a lot more lately, and my Wizardry is steadily climbing.

As for my third goal, that is to find the Reaper's Ring.  According to the help files, the Ring moves down a dungeon level every time it is found.  There's a list of 'Finders of the Ring' that can be viewed, which states that the ring was last located on Level 49, so if I'm interpreting it correctly I should find it somewhere on level 50.  The important question to ask here is, will it be found on level 50 of the Forest?  Or will I have to explore all of the other dungeons as well?  Christ, I hope not.  This game could be over after 12 more dungeon levels, or it could take another 50 to 150 on top of that.  I'm dreading the prospect.

One goal that I've set for myself in previous games is to map the whole thing completely.  That's one that I'm skipping for Moria.  With 240+ dungeon levels (and very large ones at that), it's just too big.  I might reconsider if the dungeons had anything to find in them, but their vast emptiness only reinforces my decision to forgo making complete maps.  I've fully mapped out the City, and the single level Wilderness, as well as the first eleven levels of the Forest dungeon; it was a good way to enforce patience while I explored, and to ensure that I did enough grinding before descending to more difficult areas.  Eventually I got to the point where it felt like my character was strong enough to survive just about anything, so I stopped making complete maps.  Now I descend as soon as I find stairs leading down, and I'm progressing a lot faster than I was before.  Occasionally I find stairs that descend multiple levels at a time, which is always a cause for a minor celebration. 

In the last few days, though, since I hit roughly level 35, I'm finding that my progress has slowed again.  The battles are getting more difficult (and the enemies more numerous), and quite often I find myself running away to heal before returning to finish the battle.  If a battle is large enough I might find myself fleeing two or three times before I win.  Healing in Moria happens in real time, so I have to literally wait for minutes while my character regains Vitality.  That's why this game is perfect to play while watching TV (wrestling in particular is great for this, because it rarely requires my full attention), or browsing the web, or reading comics.  So I get some other things done while I'm playing Moria, but that time adds up, and it means I'll be stuck on this game for a while longer.  I don't know if it will get to Game of Dungeons v8 territory (a game which took me a solid year to complete) but I doubt it.  I'm progressing steadily, and my only real concern is getting killed and going back to the beginning.  That won't happen unless I do something really stupid; this is a long game, and it punishes impatience, but it's also predictable.  If I do die, the fault will be 100% my own.

MAGIC

And now, on to one of the topics I want to dissect today: magic. Magic in Moria is rudimentary at best: there are five combat spells, five non-combat spells, and five prayers that can be used in combat.  All of the spells (though not the prayers) drain your Vitality when cast.  This drain has lessened as my Wizardry increased: when I started the game, I was losing 10-15 Vitality per spell cast; now I lose 2 or 3 points.

That decrease in the loss of Vitality has meant that using spells in combat has become a lot more viable, and I often find myself spamming magic at my foes now rather than alternating between attacks.  What's made this even more effective is the way that spellcasting is affected by gaining ranks in the Circle of Wizards (as I detailed above).  As a Journeyman, I occasionally found that my character would cast two spells in a single attack.  As a Counselor this increased to three, and as a Master it increased again to four.  Most of my spell attacks now affect multiple foes, and there's little more satisfying than killing four enemies at once with a single spell.

And now, a bit more on the spells themselves, and what I've discovered about them during play:

Combat Spells:

Paralyze: This spell freezes the foe in place, killing it instantly.  To be honest I don't use this one much, and I haven't figured out which monsters are especially vulnerable to it.  I probably ought to spam this one more often to find out.

Charm: The Charm spell makes the target lower its guard, allowing you to slip in and kill it.  It seems to be more effective against humanoid types, although I don't feel like I've established that definitively.  Again, this is a spell I should try more often.

Dispell Magic: This spell turns the target's magic against it, killing it instantly.  I would have thought it would be most effective against spellcasting monsters, and that's the case against priests and the like.  Against wizard-types, it's almost completely ineffective.  I'd previously written that it was good against elementals, but now I'm not so sure about that.  What it works really well against (really well indeed) is undead.  Undead just aren't a threat in Moria, because they're so easily mowed down by this spell (or the prayer Holy Word).

(Note the distinctive misspelling.  That's exactly the way that it was written in the original Dungeons & Dragons booklets.)

Magic Missile: A damage dealing spell that hits pretty much everything with equal effectiveness.  On dungeon level 38 I'm finding that it kills enemies about half the time, and when it doesn't it deals up to 60 to 70 points of damage.

Sleep: Puts the target to sleep, allowing for an instant kill.  This is the spell that I use the most.  It's really effective against animals and mythical beasts like Chimera, but it works on just about everything else except for undead and spellcasters.

As I mentioned above, the number of spells cast in a round increases depending on your guild rank, so long as you're a member of the Circle of Wizards.  (I wonder if the same holds true for the other guilds, and the stat most relevant to their members?  I doubt that I'm ever going to find out.)

Combat Prayers:

Much like the combat spells, these can only be cast during battle. Their effectiveness is based on Piety rather than Wizardry, and they don't drain Vitality like spells do.

Holy Word: The prayer that I use the most.  When successful it instantly kills a single opponent, and it almost always works against the undead.  My Piety stat is my second-highest, because I spend so many combats with undead enemies just using Holy Word over and over again.  It's so good against them that it's pointless to use any other attacks (although the Dispell Magic spell is almost as good).

Escape: This prayer allows you to escape from battle, but to be honest it doesn't seem any more effective than using the Run command.  I suppose that it might be a better choice if your Piety is higher than your Cunning, but my scores are within a reasonable distance of each other.  As such, this isn't a prayer that I ever find myself using.

Miracle: Apparently this prayer summons divine aid to destroy every enemy on the battlefield.  I wouldn't know, because it's never once worked for me.  Every few battles or so I try it out, but so far nothing has resulted.  I suspect that I need either a higher Piety or to be a member of the Brotherhood (the priest's guild) for this prayer to be consistently useful.

Unction: This one gives you some healing when your Vitality drops below 50.  It's not worth using.  It works so rarely and heals so little - around 5 to 10 points of Vitality - that it's a better tactic to either keep attacking, or just run away and heal naturally.

Non-Combat Spells:

Finally, there are five spells that can be cast outside of battle.  Most of these are very good, and I use them quite often.

Light:  I have this spell on all the time, because it reveals secret doors.  It also lasts basically forever, as it only disappears when you return to the city.  It's indispensable for mapping purposes.

Passwall: This spell allows you to pass through walls.  You can't beat the game without it, because there are dungeon areas that are completely blocked off and inaccessible via regular or secret doors.  There are even some stairs in these areas, so the importance of this spell can't be overstated.  It can be a problem in the early stages of the game, though, because it works so infrequently, and every casting drains around 10 points of Vitality.  It's easy to get impatient and keep exploring after using most of your Vitality on Passwall spells, and I lost more than a few characters that way.  On the flip side, this spell is a great way to grind your Wizardry stat, especially if you're prepared to spend a while casting it on walls in the City, where there are no random encounters.

Precognition: This is the only non-combat spell that I don't use.  It tells you whether a particular group of monsters has any treasure, which I suppose is useful in gauging whether that group is worth fighting.  Personally I consider every group worth fighting, if only to grind up my stats.  Treasure is a secondary concern.

Protection: This spell protects you from attacks, but it's hard to say just how effective it is.  My gut feeling is that I get hit less when it's on, but it's not a large enough difference that I can be certain about it.  Still, I have it on all the time, just in case it is aiding my survival.  It has the same effectively infinite duration as Light, so it's not a chore to have on at all times.

Teleport to City: This spell is only available to members of the Circle of Wizards, and is the main reason that I chose that guild in the first place.  Without it, getting back to the city would require slogging back through the entire dungeon, and now that I'm on level 38 that does not sound at all enticing.  With it, I can get back there with the press of a few buttons.  As soon as I read about this ability I knew which guild I'd go for, and I can't imagine playing the game without this spell.

Overall, the magic system of this game is a solid one, but it lacks the clear definition of the other PLATO RPGs, such as The Game of Dungeons.  The other games had less spells, but their effects where tangible.  In Moria too many of the spells feel interchangeable, or ineffective.  It's not as obvious how the spells affect the game, and that hurts it a lot.

GUILDS

As I've mentioned before, there are four guilds that you can join in this game: the Thieves Guild, the Brotherhood, the Union of Knights and the Circle of Wizards.  Each of the guilds is located in the city, and they're really the only reason to explore much of the city at all.  The vast majority of the info I have to impart here is about the Circle of Wizards.  I've tried characters in all four guilds, but the Circle is the one guild I've progressed far enough in to notice any benefits.

Each of the guilds is tied to one of the four stats: Cunning for the Thieves Guild, Piety for the Brotherhood, Valor for the Union of Knights and Wizardry for the Circle of Wizards.  You need a score of 20 in the relevant stat to join the chosen guild.

(This is where I'd normally detail the process of gaining ranks, but I've covered that above already.  As I've also mentioned, the main benefit of advancing in rank seems to be getting extra attacks with your chosen stat.  The only other thing I have to add is a confirmation that the ranks of Journeyman, Counselor and Master are used by all four guilds.)

Each of the guilds confers a special ability.  Thieves  have a greater chance of finding magic items; knights take less damage, and have a chance of beheading their foes; members of the Brotherhood can raise the Vitality of their group (when teamed up with other players); and as I've already mentioned Wizards get the spell "Teleport to City".  I'll say it again: that last ability, at least on paper, trumps anything the other classes have to offer.  I'm not even sure if the special ability of the Brotherhood can be used in single player games at all.

Chillin' at the guild.

The guilds grant more than just abilities, however.  There's a bank where you can store and retrieve gold (in bags of 200,000 coins each).  There's a bond fund you can contribute to, which goes towards getting fellow guild members out of prison (more on that later).  There's an item locker, where you can store your surplus weapons and items.  It's always handy to have some powerful items in there, because if you die then your stored stuff gets handed down to your next character (who is presumably some sort of heir).  It's a nice way of ensuring that new characters don't start completely from scratch.  Finally, there are the transport options, which let you teleport to either another player in the dungeon, or to your own camp.  You can set a camp anywhere in the dungeon, and always use your guild to return to it; this, in combination with the Wizard's teleportation ability, has saved me a ton of time going back and forth.

You can attempt to rob a guild that you're not a member of, but I'm loathe to try it.  I've had a go with newly made characters, but never succeeded.  Failure results in arrest, and a primitive screen shot of some prison bars.  Apparently you can be bailed out by fellow guildmembers, but I've never attempted it with a character who was advanced enough to have a guild.  I'd love to capture the screenshot, but I don't want to risk losing my character forever.  Alas, in games with perma-death there is no room for experimentation.

So far, I haven't burned out on Moria yet.  I wouldn't say I'm exactly enjoying it, but it's the sort of game I can play on autopilot while doing other stuff.  It's almost a zen, calming experience, interspersed with occasional bursts of panic for the moments when I get a little too close to dying.   The real test of my resolve is going to come if I discover that I need to explore a different dungeon.  I don't know if I can bear going through the whole process again, but I'll deal with that when the time comes.  (Who am I kidding, I'm going to hack away at this game until I'm done, because I'm insane.)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Moria: Combat

As I've mentioned in previous posts, beating Moria is going to take me a long time.  The game is big, death is permanent, and there's no way to make the experience shorter.  What that means is that the blog will be tied up with this game for some time, and I've decided (perhaps unwisely) not to have any other games running in the background.  I want to just get Moria out of the way, and indeed to get the whole PLATO era of CRPGs over and done with, so I'm proceeding as quickly as I can.

What that means is that I have to make this game last as far as blog posts go, so I'm going to do a series of posts discussing every facet of the game in exhaustive detail.  I'm not sure how interesting it will be to read.  I'm not even sure how interesting it will be to write.  Perhaps I'm just trying to make you all as sick of this game as I'm getting.  Nevertheless, let's crack on with my next post in the series: Combat.

Ah combat, the central part of most classic CRPGs.  Combat in Moria is frequent, but it's also quite quick.  In any 6x6 section of the map you might get about five battles, but most of them are over in under a minute.

The PLATO games that precede Moria (The Dungeon, The Game of Dungeons v5, and Orthanc) had rudimentary combat systems, in which most of the tactical options stemmed from spells, and the immunities of the various monsters.  Moria probably has a similar level of tactical play (i.e. not much), but it has a good number of options to choose from in battle:

(F)ight: Your standard melee attack, which is what I mostly default to.  The success of this attack is based on your character's Valor score.  Damage is also based on Valor, versus the Defense of the monster you're attacking.  Up to level 16 of the Forest dungeon, I found that my character's damage would display from 1 to 7 points, and anything higher than that would kill the monsters outright.  Earlier today I started exploring level 19, and now monsters are surviving blows that deal up to 10 points of damage.

Attacking a Zombie, and being attacked in return.

(T)rick: This attack is based on your character's Cunning score.  The idea here is that you use your guile to get the monster to let its guard down before striking a surprise blow.  If it works it kills the enemy instantly.  I'm not sure how this is determined.  My character's current Cunning score is 38, and I find that using Trick works about half the time.  Perhaps it's just a straight percentage chance of success?

(P)ray:  Praying is based on your character's Piety score, and gives a whole bunch of options.  The one that I use the most is Holy Word, which instantly kills a single monster (I find that's it's super-effective against the undead).  You can pray for escape, which is not an option that I've ever used.  I didn't even realise that it was a thing until doing some reading for this post.  When I need to flee, I use the Escape command detailed below.  The third Pray option is to pray for a miracle, which calls for divine intervention from your gods and kills every single enemy on the field.  I haven't tried this one much, because it's noted in the instructions that the gods tire of this if its done too much.  I'd rather not deal with the repercussions of angering the gods, especially in a game with perma-death in effect.  Besides, on the occasions when I have tried it it's never worked.  The final Pray option is healing, which only works when your character's Vitality has dropped under 50.  This is another one that I don't use much, because once I drop below 50 Vitality I start trying to escape.

(B)ribe: This is another option that I didn't remember was in the game.  I was loathe to test it out, as I wasn't sure whether the choice of item to bribe with was mine, or a random one.  I ended up stripping my character completely of gear, taking an old Hood that I had stored in my guild locker, and hunting for a battle in the wilderness, where the monsters are the weakest.  I found a leprechaun, and was pleased to discover that the game let me decide what items to offer.  Alas, nothing I tried worked.  The leprechaun took my Hood and about 1,000 gold, and still wouldn't accept my bribe.  I killed him with my bare hands, and - predictably - the stuff I had given him wasn't included in the treasure I found after the battle.  I doubt I'll be going back to this option.

Mythologically speaking, I probably chose the worst possible monster to attempt to bribe.

(R)un: This is the most vital option in the game.  Seriously, knowing when to run is the single most important tool for survival that the player has in Moria.  Success is based on your Cunning score, and you can attempt it over and over again until you escape.  You don't lose anything as far as I can tell, and you're still in the same square you were in before the battle commenced.  The monsters are still there as well, which was the source of a few of my early deaths: if you return to that square, or refresh while standing on it, you'll be attacked again.
  The instructions mention that you lose a share of treasure when you run from a battle, but I'm pretty sure that's a multi-player thing.

Running from some Werelions.  I could totally beat them, this is just for the blog.

(E)vade: This option keeps you in the battle, but makes you more difficult to hit.  It's probably quite useful in multi-player games, for when you're wounded but want to stay in a battle to claim your treasure. In single player mode it's pointless.

(C)ast a Spell: The effectiveness of spells is based on your Wizardry score.  There are five different combat spells in the game, most of them quite similar on the surface.  Paralyze freezes the target monster, killing it instantly.  Charm makes the monster think you're it's friend, allowing you to kill it instantly.  Sleep puts the target to sleep, permanently.  Dispell Magic turns a monster's magic against it, killing it instantly.  (Sensing a pattern?)  The outlier is Magic Missile, which simply deals damage.
  In theory the various spells are more or less effective against certain monsters, but I haven't noticed it much during play.  Sleep seems to work well against normal animals like lizards and spiders, while Dispell Magic seems to be effective when facing undead and elementals.  Magic-Users are immune to spells, as far as I can tell.  I probably need to figure these vulnerabilities out, because I get the feeling that I'll be encountering deadlier monsters in the near future.
  This is the option that I use the least in combat, because each spell you cast drains your Vitality.  The spells seem to be no more or less effective than any other option, so choosing the one that brings you closer to death with every round seems a bit foolish.

Yell for (H)elp: This command puts out a general cry for help to any other players that are in the same section of the dungeon with you.  It's yet another multi-player option that I haven't been able to explore.  (I'm tempted to try to set up a second account, and run another character on my wife's laptop just to check these options out.)

(m)essage everyone or (M)essage an individual: More options for multiplayer.  I'm not sure why you'd be sending messages to people in the middle of battle, but it must have had some uses.

In the earliest stages of the game you only ever encounter monsters that are by themselves.  As you descend dungeon levels the number of monsters grows, and you will also be attacked by multiple groups (though never more than three groups).  I'm currently on the 19th level of the Forest, and most of my battles are with three monster groups with up to 8 creatures in each group.

(Some of the groupings can start to look ridiculous.  5 Hobbits, 7 Zombies and 4 Bears?  Sure, okay.)

It sounds overwhelming, but I've noticed that I never take more damage in a single exchange than I would from a single monster.  (The toughest monsters can deal up to 12 points of damage.)  An arrow next to the names of the monster groups determines which one you will attack that round, and which one attacks you.  So while you're not really in control of which monsters you're attacking, and you can't target anything in particular, the monsters can't gang up on you either.  It's not at all realistic, but it helps a lot with survivability.

In most combats I have a set routine.  I open with a spell (unless my Vitality is already low).  Then I alternate as follows: Fight, Trick, Fight, Pray, Fight, Trick, Fight, Pray, and so on.  The idea here is to keep all of my stats going up at an even level, with a greater focus on Valor.  The only problem is that Wizardry doesn't get used as much (a problem compounded by the fact that my character is a member of the Wizard's Guild), but that's offset by frequent use of spells outside of battle.

I'll shake the routine up if I encounter some really strong undead, particularly Reapers. In that case, I target those with Holy Word prayers, spamming them until they're all dead.

Other than that, my only tactic is to run away once my Vitality dips below 50.  I might stick it out if there are only a few enemies left, but I don't like to risk it.  This game eats up a lot of my time, and I really don't need to go back to the beginning.

About to flee from some Reapers due to low Vitality.  The risks I take for you people.

Overall, I think that this is a pretty good combat system for the time.  It's more complex than anything found on the other PLATO RPGs,  but despite all of the options on offer it still boils down to mashing the attack button over and over again.  Perhaps it's more interesting when multiple players are involved, but I'm not sure if I'll ever get to test that out.  For me, the most admirable thing about combat in Moria is that it's fast-paced, easy to navigate, and over quickly.  Brevity in a combat system goes a long way.