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.

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