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).

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.

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.


  1. I can't believe that you've been playing this game for such a long time and there are some items and treasures that you've only seen 1-3 times. The drop rates must be insane. You need to get a thief in your party and improve your loot acquiring ability, if that's even how that works. On that front, have you considered getting additional cyber1 sign-ons and building a multi-char party that way? I have no idea how the game play for parties works in practice, but that might improve your survivability at deeper levels.

    I was reading the CRPGAddict's post on Oubliette in anticipation of your trying it, and saw this site ( linked in a very recent comment. It seems to state that he's played with at least four different sign-ons/characters simultaneously in order to explore the entire thing, so perhaps the same would work for Moria. There's still no end goal in Oubliette from what I can see (but only 10 levels), so you could do some reading when you get there to figure out what you want to do with it.

    re: 1978 games -- Are you familiar with the Devil's Dungeon? It's an early text RPGish game for microcomputers that was originally written in 1978. Here are some resources, if you're interested: (pp 99-110)

    Keith's piece states that there's an Apple disk image somewhere that has a copy of it, but I can't find it with some cursory Googling and searching on the Asimov site. As far as I know, no chronogamer has given it a serious play, so it might be worth checking out.

    1. Following up with myself, I used AppleWin to type in the listing of Devil's Dungeon. Man, it's been years since I coded anything in BASIC, much less on an Apple II... I had to fix a bug and attempted to pretty up the output a bit, but it's otherwise untouched. If you're interested in an Apple II .dsk of it, let me know.

      It plays like an infinite dungeon version of Caves/Hunt the Wumpus, but you have stats, experience, gold, and monsters to wrestle with, so it's a little bit like an RPG. The goal is more or less just to see how much gold you can find and get out alive with.

      Now that I've jumped down the rabbit hole of 1970s computing magazines, there are a couple of other commercial games from 1978 that I'm trying to find more on. There was something sold by Don Alan Enterprises for the Commodore PET called "The Dragon". I have no idea what kind of game it is, and PET software is super scarce online, so that will probably end up as a dead end.

      More promising is something called "Quest" that was sold for the PET by the Peninsula School in Menlo Park, CA in early 1978. It's directly inspired by Adventure, and a listing was eventually published in the July 1979 issue of Byte magazine. I can try typing that one in, too, and see where that gets me.

    2. Thanks for the heads-up on those games, man - I'll add them tentatively to my list and so how it goes. I'll probably get in touch with you if I have trouble locating them.

    3. I have thought about getting multiple sign-ons, but there's an approval process with cyber1 and I'm not sure how the people who run it would view that sort of thing. I'd probably need another e-mail address, and I honestly can't be bothered. Survival in Moria is more a matter of patience than numbers.

    4. re: sign-ons -- It's apparently pretty normal to have at least two. Per the cyber1 FAQ: "We pretty much give away the first signon to anyone who asks, though we do reject registrations that are obviously bogus or that fail other validation protocols. Typically people will want two signons. A second signon is also a freebie in that there are no real additional protocols..."

      re: games -- I've also now typed in 'Quest' and it seems to be working okay after tweaking some string functions for AppleSoft BASIC. It has a small number of locations, but has some pretty interesting features in it.