Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lord of the Rings: You Shall not Pass!

The party crosses a bridge deep beneath Moria.

Most of this session was taken up by the Mines of Moria, an extremely large, multi-leveled dungeon with numerous passages up and down, stairways, holes in ceilings and floors, teleporters, and other navigation tricks among its 13 levels (6 up, 6 down, plus the main floor). Since the main floor contained both the entrance and the exit, most of the rest of the dungeon was entirely optional, useful mostly for a side-quest to find Durin's Axe.

Outside Rivendell, I had a few places to explore before Moria. There were a handful of barrows full of restless undead who bowed to Aragorn (some reference to the dead men of Dunharrow?) and wanted our help to destroy a magic ring, which "wights of Sauron" were using to capture and hold the dead spirits. It wasn't a lot of effort, but then again it didn't give me any reward.

It's almost like people think I'm good for nothing but destroying rings..

There was also a second passage into the mountains, labeled "Redhorn Pass" which I understand is translated as "Caradhras" in Elvish and was the pass that the Fellowship tried to cross before nearly getting buried in snow. In the game, it seems more like a dungeon, but in any event after some time in a winding corridor, you come up against a snow drift and can't continue.

I guess this was predictable if you know the source material.

Arriving at Moria, there's a little cinematic where Gandalf tries to open the door with a variety of passwords before he realizes the "friend" riddle. The process is mimicked in the game by using the MELLON word of power. The gates open, there's a brief fight with some tentacles coming out of the water, and then the Fellowship is in the mines. Incidentally, Bill the pony gets killed by the tentacles in the animated film. I'm reliably assured this doesn't happen in the book. What was Ralph Bakshi's problem?

Both Moria and the pass, it must be said, are remarkably close to Rivendell. I realize the game was trying to economize on time and space, but it's odd to find these places just a quick walk down the road.

Exploring Moria took a long time. Corridors slope up and down, so sometimes it's not obvious when the party moves between levels (though Gimli usually makes a comment). Orcs, trolls, Uruk-hai, and Olog-hai frequently attack. Some of the ways up and down are in non-obvious places (e.g., you have to move around a room until you get a message that there's a hole going down), and there were an awful lot of encounters and puzzles to solve, almost all geared towards (ultimately) finding Durin's Axe. A player that doesn't care about all that could just run through the first level and be across the Bridge of Khazad-dum in a few minutes. I wanted to explore the whole thing and started out with a "right wall" pattern but gave it up for a "one level at a time" pattern when the former strategy put me in a (long) endless loop.

The dungeon featured a lot of pits and bridges that crossed chasms, some filled with lava. I learned early on that you really don't want to get too close.

There were a couple of scenes that mimicked events in the book (which, of course, I know only from the way they were translated to the Jackson films). The part where Gandalf says "I have no memory of this place" and Pippin makes a huge racket occur in the same room.

This is not, unlike the film, the same room where the Fellowship finds the book detailing Balin's ill-fated attempt to reclaim the mines. That takes place in the top level of the dungeon, where a cut scene from the film shows Gandalf reading the book and learning of Balin's death.

After the party reads the book, some orcs attack:

The game's version of the epic battle in Balin's tomb.

After the battle, the player is encouraged to hustle out the door. If he doesn't, the party gets overwhelmed by orcs, and the game ends. But the Fellowship only needs to leave the room; they don't need to keep running all the way to Khazad-dum. This is another place in which the game removes the book's sense of urgency.

Throughout the mines, I kept finding a brown bird that was screaming Gandalf's name and occasionally provided me with a bit of advice. I had encountered the same bird in the Shire and the Old Forest. I'm not sure if he exists in the books. During one journal entry, he was about to tell Gandalf his name but he got cut off. Does he have something to do with Radagast?

The power turned out to be the KHAZAD word of power.

Finally, there was a fun encounter where I ran into a vein of mithril ore and had the opportunity to mine it. If I only mined four or five pieces, everything was all right, but if I mined more, my party went crazy with lust for mithril, abandoned the quest, and kept mining until orcs came along and killed us.

Ha! Kind of how I feel in real life about heroin!

I met the balrog twice, once in a throne room and later on the bridge. In both cases, I just had to use Gandalf's staff to send him away.

As I said, much of the experience in the mines is finding Durin's Axe. I'm not going to recount every step, but in general, to find the weapon, I had to defeat an evil spirit on one level, find a treasure chest with various quest items on another, and find a word of power (SIGN OF THE SEVEN) on a third. I then had to navigate down to the bottom level, solve a maze, use "perception" in a very non-obvious place to find a hole in the ceiling, walk through a very non-obvious hidden door, use Durin's Pick on a statue, recite two pieces of lore learned elsewhere in the dungeon, give three items to three ghosts, and finally use the word of power. It took bloody forever. (Oddly, there was no place to explicitly use Galadriel's token or the golden wheel, even though I'd been assured that I needed both.) This axe had better be awesome.

There were, surprisingly, two exits from Moria. One was on a lower level. I'm not sure where it led ultimately, but I wanted to do the canonical thing and experience the balrog on the bridge. (Though it later occurred to me that I probably could have kept Gandalf if I'd gone out the other way.) Khazad-dum was anti-climactic. For one thing, the bridge itself was very short:

When I got to the other side, I got three paragraphs about the balrog chasing me, each concluding with the phrase "you are doomed." But I again used Gandalf's staff, and a clip from the film showed Gandalf defeating the balrog and falling to his own "death."

You can't really tell what's going on here, but it was the best shot I got.

I had to fight three Uruks at the exit, but after that I was on my way to Lothlorien.

In general, it was a pretty satisfying dungeon crawl. The enemies weren't so frequent as to be annoying, but they were frequent enough to pose a real danger. (There were a couple of healing places in the dungeon, but not many.) The inventory and skill puzzles were fair. I found some nice mithril/magic armor upgrades. And I liked the varied textures for caverns, hallways, water, lava, and so forth, making the whole dungeon very interesting and evocative.

Finding some quest items from behind Durin's throne.

I haven't talked about combat in a lot of detail in these posts, but there's not much to it. When enemies appear, the party enters combat mode. You still have access to the same commands, including all inventory commands, but each character has to act in turn.

Unless armed with a bow or casting a spell, characters must be in combat range to attack. Owing to the weird nature of the party formation, and how the party somewhat haphazardly follows the lead character, party members might be in a helpful or unhelpful arrangement when combat begins. It's particularly tough in narrow corridors when some characters might end up blocking others from engaging. Some characters have to waste their turn moving into a better position, and they may find they can't get close enough to attack at all until someone else moves. I really wish the game had allowed setting up a combat formation.

A combat with trolls and Nazgul. Note how the game has started the party in the same formation in which they were walking. It will take a while to  untangle them and get them all in melee range.
As far as attacking goes, there's usually only one "attack" option in which the character swings his chosen weapon. If the character has a skill in that weapon, there might be a more powerful second option, such as "aim" for bows and "swing" for axes. If there's more than one enemy in range, you choose which one you want to attack, but there's no easy way to correspond the list of enemies to the actual icons on the screen. If the blow connects--which it usually does--it might be deflected by the enemy's armor, or it might do a number of damage points dependent on the weapon and the character's strength. Wounded enemies are annotated with an *, and wounded enemies near death are annotated with a !. These annotations provide some help in deciding who to target.

Gandalf decides whether to target the Uruk, the Uruk, the Uruk, or the Uruk.

Enemies don't seem to exhibit much of a preference in their own targeting. They don't go for the weakest Fellowship member, or the closest. They just seem to attack anyone in range at random. As I noted previously, when a character drops below 6 hit points, he falls unconscious and dies within a few rounds if you can't wrap up combat before then.

You can try to flee from combat by simply moving off the active screen, but I find that if combat is dangerous enough that I feel compelled to flee, the enemy almost always kills a few characters before I can get everyone off the screen. If a character is so wounded that I need to remove him from danger, it's easy enough just to have him back away from the melee without fleeing entirely.

I thought the combat system might turn more tactical with the introduction of spells, but it didn't at all. There are only three offensive spells--"Winterchill," "Firefinger," and "Vincecrush." I only have the first two, and without exception they do less damage than an effective attack. Worse, they directly deplete the caster's life points. As far as I'm concerned, spells are only useful for solving puzzles, not for offensive combat. There are no defensive or buffing spells in the game. Now that I've lost Gandalf, I have no spells at all except "Countermagic."

My guess is that I'll finish the game in one or two more postings. I look forward to the last couple areas, but I'm also mostly ready for the game to be over.


  1. Did you attempt to fight the Balrog? :)

    You may want to go back and pick Legolas. I believe there's a few quest rewards that depend on his presence in Lothlorien.

  2. Shoot. I meant to mention that. Yes, I tried to fight him in the throne room but before battle even began, he did enough damage to kill a couple of my characters. After that, he utterly took us apart.

    I'm on the road this week. Knowing I would be busy, I finished up the game this weekend and already wrote the next post (won!) and the final rating. So it's not that I'm not taking your advice; it's just too late.

    1. You can avoid his damage in the throne room if you have a specific item.

      I took him in the bridge, putting the dwarf you find in Moria as the party leader (sacrificial fodder), then Anduril + Durin's Axe + etc made short work of him.

    2. Forgot to add: I like how the game gives you different possibilities to overcome different obstacles. That's still quite innovative for 1990.

    3. i agree. I comment about that a bit in the next two postings.

  3. The game's over already?!? I haven't read the book, but I was sort of expecting something more... longer and epic.

  4. I think Pedro Q. implied that you could recruit Radagast. Maybe the bird could be useful then?

    1. Knowing the game's over already, no problem with spoilers I guess: yes, the birds are Radagast's. You find "him" a bit after Lothlorien but a perception check reveals it's actually a werewolf. After defeating it, Radagast is caged in bird form and a counterspell restores him.

      Radagast can then join the party - he's about as strong and useful as Gandalf.

  5. You can use the Golden Wheel against the Balrog. Also it neutralizes the teleportation effects of a maze in the 3rd level.

    Since you've already finish the game, take a look at this web:


    it has detailed maps and all the scripted events in the game, quite interesting to look for things that you may have missed.

    1. Yes, I looked at that site and commented on it in my final. It really helped me understand how many alternate paths I could have taken and other encounters I could have experienced.

  6. ...Did I turn illiterate here, or does it say "The game will be finished in a post or two", not "Game over, everyone spoiler-dump"?

    1. He already beat the game, now we wait for the posts to catch up to that fact. In this case, 'finishing' a game means a post about the end-game, then a GIMLET...then Gateway to Apshai, which shouldn't take long.

    2. I must've missed that comment. So, yes, I have turned illiterate. Glad to have that confirmed.

    3. I already wrote Gateway to Apshai, even. (I won't be back in a good playing location until June 4.) Disappointing game.

    4. Even back in 1983.

    5. Since now Dragonflight is coming up, I want to remind you that both the DOS version and the Atari ST version are buggy. Your best bet is probably the Amiga version.

      Have a look at the Thalion webshrine: http://thalion.exotica.org.uk/games/dragonflight/df.html

      The English manual is found here: http://www.lemonamiga.com/games/docs.php?id=513

      But also have a look at the German manual (available on the webshrine above) for the nice illustrations.

      The game itself has quite some potential although it still has this homebrew feeling to it. Based on their experience with Dragonflight, Thalion continued to create the awesome Amberstar and Ambermoon games later.

    6. The ST version is buggy, too? I know the DOS version is buggy to the extent that it can't be finished (and I couldn't find an English version anyway), but I didn't realize the ST version had issues, too.

      Even if it does, that's the one I'm playing. I never want to hear "Amiga" again. I spent more time trying to get the damned game working on the Amiga than I spent playing the entirety of Gateway to Apshai. It was easier to learn a brand new emulator (ST) than figure out these Amiga problems.

      Be warned that anyone who replies on this thread with anything having to do with "WHDLoad" risks the full fury of my unbridled rage.

    7. At the risk of your unbridled rage, even the ready made Hoborg package of Amiga Dragonflight did not work? Usually I have not had any problems with his packages, they all run smoothly...

    8. I thought the Atari bug was about the copy protection that wasn't completely removed. But there seems to be a workaround. See the last entry in this forum:

      Enjoy Dragonflight :). And the Steem emulator. Much easier to use than the Amiga emulator.

    9. Yeah, I just get a black screen every time I try to launch anything. I've tried about six packages.

      Glad to know the ST version is salvageable. You're correct that I'm using the Steem emulator. I tried Hatari first but had problems with it.

    10. After T&T and LoTR, I was honestly a bit worried to see Dragonflight next on your list.

      That game looked fantastic when I was a kid, it was really cutting edge for the time, but I've known about the emulator issues for years myself.

      Hopefully you can get it working though.

      IMO you're hitting a really weird period in CRPGs. Technology was hitting a point that games like U6 and LoTR were possible.

      However, that evolution from M&M-esque 16x16 maps, to U6/LoTR style worlds was a tough one on many developers. LoTR is a good example, they did not realize that tons of empty space on a world map would be a problem.

      Adding to that, was the fact that Gold Box games were still hugely successful. SSI continued to pump them out. In some cases it was a good thing (SotSB, POD, DKK) with many others though they essentially just polluted the CRPG pool with unneeded copies (GttSF, TotSF, DQK, Matrix Cubed.)

      Since they made money on those games though, there were folks that copied them. T&T seems like an attempt to make a Gold Box/M&M/Ultima mashup/clone with the T&T brand, for example.

      Lastly, since games were still fairly inexpensive to make at that point it seems like there was a lot of product hitting the market.

    11. Sorry, hit enter too soon. I'm old or something.

      Anywhoo, to wrap it up, it seems like the year you're working on could turn into actual work at some point.

      Might make sense to mix up the game order intentionally to make sure you hit something that you'll actually like every 2 - 3 games. We'd all hate to see you burn out!

    12. It's a good idea, but the last time I tried it, it didn't really work. I ended up loving some games I didn't think I'd like, and I didn't like games I had carefully placed because I would like them. The random process hasn't worked out so bad for 1990 so far.

  7. Spoiler for real life: Heroin turns out to be a bad item. Town guards will aggro if you have it in your inventory, and it gives your character substantial stat drain. You probably shouldn't even pick it up unless you're curious about seeing the bad ending screens.

    1. But if you mix it with garlic, I think it regenerates magicka or something.

    2. X and Chet each made me laugh. Good ones.

  8. lol
    BTW is Moria the first time in a book that a party has gone into a dungeon?
    A 'party' as in more than one warrior (bonus points if the party has a wizard) descending into a place of traps or enemies.
    The minotaur encounter in greek mythology doesnt count of course as that was one person.

    1. Might have happened in pulp fantasy pre-lotr - Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser, Conan and Valeria etc

      Can't think of any western myths where multiple heroes descend into a catacomb.

    2. Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) is another plausible answer.

    3. Hmm, yeah, where does this whole "go down into a cave/labyrinth/prison to kill monsters and get treasure" come from? Maybe treasure hunters in ancient Egypt? Or Lovecraft's stories? A dungeon is literally just a subterranean prison. Why should there be treasure? Hmm....

    4. Interesting question - my Google-fu doesn't seem to be working this morning, since Wikipedia says that Tolkien, and other books like Dying Earth, are the primary influence on "dungeon crawlers". The earliest book that I can personally think of is Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, which has characters going through the Paris catacombs (skulls and all), though no treasures or non-human monsters to be had.

    5. Heck, a lovecraftian dungeon crawler would be fantastic. Have to re-read "Imprisoned with the pharaos", I was revisiting all my Lovecraft a while ago but skipped that one.

    6. Moria wasn't a "dungeon". The Fellowship was just taking an alternate route and expected to find the dwarves in residence. They would have gone out except the Watcher in the Water blocked their escape. There were no one-way doors, shifting passages, Indiana Jones traps, overly clever puzzles with a single solution, or any of the other features that characterize a "dungeon".

    7. The crux of this issue lies in how "dungeon" is defined. Enclosed, trap-filled areas in CRPGs or movies don't always line up with what medieval torture and prison chambers used to look like.

    8. As noted above, the Dying Earth series is very RPG-like in how it presents... quests?

    9. I'm pretty sure the trope must go back further, although I couldn't find any examples. Don Quixote has some underground scenes which parody chivalric stories where the heroes explore dungeons or caves. Since the knights often had squires along, it seems likely a "party" might have gone into a dungeon in one of these stories, but I'm not familiar enough with them to find it quickly.

    10. I can't believe you guys could miss the most epic multi-character party that allows swapping of characters mid-adventure to solve side-quests (with some most definitely involving dungeon-delving) on their journey to complete their final objective that predates most of your guesses:

      Ready for it?

      Jason and the Argonauts, yo!

    11. The OP was talking about a party of heroes going into a dungeon - was there any in the stories of the Argonauts? The fleece and the dragon were all outdoors as far as I remember... now, you're absolutely right about quests, heroes and swapping heroes - the Ancient Greeks had that stuff in spades!

    12. The Argonauts weren't a "party". There were like 50-100 of them if I remember correctly. Enough to fill a couple of figures for miniature gaming.

    13. Y'all are talking about too many things. First example of an adventuring party, first example of a dungeon, first example of a dungeon expedition specifically to retrieve treasure. I don't know the answer to ANY of these, but the thread has succumbed to chaos.

    14. Might not be the first dungeon crawl, but certainly a good bet is Theseus entering the Labyrinth to kill the minotaur?

      If two guys can count as a party then Gilgamesh and Enkidu might be the first adventuring party? Killing the Bull of Heaven and... some other deity of sorts, I think.

  9. The minotaur's maze is easily a dungeon. But it only has one monster and no traps.
    It's basically a place where the hero goes to face fears and challenges. It has to be enclosed and not resemble the everyday outside world.
    Moria is definitely a dungeon.
    When Conan and Valeria go into a tower and kill a snake creature that qualifies.

    1. Since Dying Earth was mentioned and I'm a lifelong Jack Vance fan, I feel compelled to write something.

      The Dying Earth stories most certainly do not have "parties." Each of the stories centers on one individual who sometimes have a very temporary companion, but I'd classify them more as "NPC's" than party members.

      It's arguable whether or not there are actually any "dungeons" in the Dying Earth stories. Cugel enters Iuconou's manse a few times, but that's just his house outfitted with several clever traps to catch thieves. Cugel also spends a brief period of time as a prisoner of some cave-dwelling creatures. I suppose their home could be a dungeon, but Cugel really only ever sees a couple of its rooms and spends most of that story topside anyway (bound by a chain).

      They're wonderful stories that I highly recommend, but they definitely don't fit your criteria. And in any case, Conan predates the first Dying Earth stories by 18 years.

  10. "Bill the pony gets killed by the tentacles in the animated film. I'm reliably assured this doesn't happen in the book. What was Ralph Bakshi's problem?" - Chet

    Ralph ain't no brony.


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