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.)

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