Thursday, February 12, 2015

Moria: Older and Fouler Things than Orcs

Chester scores a critical hit against something. A worm waits nearby, and there is a wand on the floor.

Moria's basic problem is one of exhausting length. You have to explore twice the number of levels as Rogue and each level is five times as large. If you had an invincible character and did nothing but rush from each level to the next, it would still take a good 3 or 4 hours to reach Level 50. With the necessary amount of exploration, grinding, and occasional visits to the surface to restock and refresh, all required to survive at the lower levels, you're looking at 30-40 hours, easy, for a successful game. Over such a long period, it's very difficult not to make any blunders. There can't be many people who have legitimately won Moria.

As I write this, my character is on level 17, and I fear I'm already save-scumming, as Chester was killed for the first time back on Level 13 by a human zombie. The bastard attacked me right after I emerged battered but victorious from a battle with an orc shaman. Since then, I've had to reload two more times, mostly because I'm pressing downward faster than I normally would.

My last screen playing the game legitimately.
As I noted last time, the large levels, which take up about half a dozen screens each, are regenerated and randomized every time you visit, including the placement of up- and down- staircases. You can't immediately return to a previous level, as the staircase vanishes behind you every time you transition. Sometimes it seems that you've explored the whole level without finding a staircase, but inevitably a secret door opens into another entire wing of corridors and rooms.

The randomization has some positive aspects. For one, you don't have to worry about finding every secret door and exploring every room. If you think you'd like to spend more time on a level to grind and find treasure, the easiest thing to do is go back up one level then find another down staircase. Boom--everything is refreshed and restocked. It also means that the staircases are viable ways to escape, permanently, from enemies you don't want to fight. And while the respawning and randomization means that returning to the surface without a "Recall" spell is a nightmare, I still like it better than Rogue, where you could only move downward after exploring each small level. NetHack, which offers compact and permanent levels (while still allowing backtracking) is, I must say, better than both.

The game includes the need for both light and food, but they're such trivial challenges that I wonder why the developers bothered. In 17 levels, including a lot of backtracking and holding down the "s" key while I wait for hit points to regenerate, I think I've eaten maybe 4 meals. Even if I'd had to eat 6 times that number, they're so cheap up on the surface that it doesn't really matter. Similarly, torches last for 4,000 turns by default and cost almost nothing. I've yet to run through my original stock of 10.

Every level has a ton of secret doors. As with other roguelikes, you have to be standing next to them to find them when hitting (s)earch, and as with other roguelikes, each individual "s" has a very small chance of success. More than once, in the early stages, I got trapped on levels where I could find no stairways. I knew there were secret doors somewhere, but all the searching in the world wouldn't reveal them. This is one reason I consider a spellcaster with "Find Hidden Traps/Doors" essential.

Moria uses 46 letters (23 lowercase and 23 capitals) plus two symbols to represent its creatures. Except for some common D&D derivations (kobolds, orcs, dragons), the list is mostly not derived from Rogue, though it is derivative of CRPGs in general. We have giant animals (giant ticks, giant ant, giant bat), undead (zombies, vampires, wights), classic monsters (ogres, harpies, golems, elementals), and a few inexplicable ones (quylthulgs, yeeks, icky-things). Although only 48 characters are used, there are more than 48 total monsters, as many of them are differentiated by color (white seems to be the weakest) and sometimes type; for instance, zombies and skeletons come in elf, orc, human, and other varieties.

A "Grape Jelly" drains my mana from afar.

The usual effects are here. Worms, giant centipedes, and snakes poison the character, though thankfully poison wears off quickly and only saps hit points, not strength. Some creatures (e.g., giant cobras) cause blindness, others fear, others confusion. A few unmitigated bastards drain experience levels. There are a handful, like "worm masses" and giant gnats that are self-spawning; they can easily make more and more of themselves faster than you can kill them, allowing them to overwhelm the player.

A "Detect Monster" spell reveals the extent of a giant gnat infestation. I think I'll go the other way around.

One huge difference between Moria and other roguelikes has to do with the speed variance between the character and various monsters. Innate dexterity, strength, weight, weapon weight, and various special items determine your speed, and each monster type has a speed hard-coded. On early levels, most monsters are a lot slower than the character, allowing players to make quick getaways if hit points get too low. But starting around Level 10, the player starts to encounter monsters who have multiple moves and attacks against even relatively fast characters. This makes it very hard to run away. I understand that boots or rings of speed are particularly prized by this game's players, but I've yet to find either.

As with any roguelike, inventory is a huge part of the game. Your maximum inventory is limited by strength and weight, but even the strongest characters can only carry 22 separate items. This doesn't include equipped and worn items, which appear on a separate list. One innovation that I like is the ability to designate a primary weapon and secondary weapon, with the "x" key instantly reversing them. This makes it simple to switch between melee and ranged weapons, or between a weapon and a pick for bashing into walls.

Switching to a pick to clear out this rubble.

There are weapons, armor, amulets, food, potions, rings, scrolls, staves, and wands, and the usual roguelike conventions apply. At the beginning of each game, each effect is randomized by color for potions, by incantation for scrolls, and by types of metal for wands. Only through experimentation or a Scroll of Identification can you start to learn that a "red potion" is a Potion of Blindness and a "tin wand" is a Wand of Fire Balls. Many items are cursed and can only be removed with a Scroll of Remove Curses or a comparable spell. Unique to this game are colored mushrooms, which have similar effects as potions.

Items aren't scattered randomly like in Rogue. In Rogue, you had as much chance of finding a Scroll of Genocide on Level 1 as Level 20. In Moria, items seem to get better as you move downward. Rings didn't start showing up for me until about Level 8, and amulets not until about Level 15. Even within a category, items seem to get better as you go down.

Perhaps the most useful item in the game is a Scroll of Word-of-Recall. If you're in the dungeon, it takes you back to the town. If you're in town, it returns you to the maximum dungeon level that you've ever explored. They're sold in the town, so you generally don't want to use your last one until you have enough money to buy a new one.

The seasoned adventurer returns to town to spend some of his hard-earned gold.

Word-of-Recall scrolls are really the only things that make returning to the surface tolerable. I occasionally manually walk back down the levels after visiting the surface--it's good for grinding and wealth-accumulation--but nothing's more frustrating than trying to fight back up 15 levels. I can't imagine trying to do it at Level 40. The scrolls don't work instantaneously, so you can't use them to escape death. Instead, you cast them and then wander around for about 20 moves before they teleport you.

Partly because of the scrolls, both the town and the economy remain extremely important throughout the game. The town sells most, if not all, of the game's magic items, so if you have no luck finding a Ring of Resist Fire in the dungeon, you can always try your luck at the magic shop. I think--but I'm not sure--that the inventory updates based on the lowest level you've managed to achieve in the dungeon. I've been noticing more advanced items in the shops as the game goes on. In any event, magic items, scrolls, and potions are expensive, and you don't get that much money during exploration. You always have an incentive to tunnel into the walls for every last gold piece, to sell unwanted items, to increase charisma, and to bargain with the shopkeepers.

Some of the cool stuff available for the right price.

Finally, let's talk about spells. I like the system. Both mages and priests have a selection of spellbooks, each with 5-7 spells. Spellcasting characters come with the first level spellbook in their field, and you have to buy (or find?) more to get the higher-level spells. With every level you increase, you can select one new spell to learn out of any of your spellbooks, as long as the spell level is equal to, or less than, your character level.

After you've learned a spell, it costs mana to cast. Mana is precious. For my ranger, at least, it's only enough to cast a couple of spells before he has to regenerate, so not enough to make a successful combat spellcaster. Mages could probably do better. There's a chance of failure, based on your intelligence and level, every time you cast. Mana regenerates significantly slower than hit points.

I use a rare offensive spell against a Grey Ooze. Generally, missile weapons are the better option.

I find certain spells absolutely essential for effective exploration. I've already talked about "Find Hidden Traps/Doors," a Level 5 spell, without which I would have been stuck many times in areas in which I couldn't find the exit. "Detect Monsters" is also extremely valuable to get a quick sense of the area around you. I cast "Light Area" (a Level 5 spell) every time I enter a darkened room.

I just recently got "Teleport Self," which serves as a nice "Hail Mary" in a tough combat. I'm looking particularly forward to reaching Level 23, at which point I can learn the "Identify" spell and I can stop relying on scrolls. Other useful ones in between include "Recharge Item," "Create Food," and "Remove Curse." I frankly don't know how a pure warrior class gets through this game.

I just bought this spellbook. I look forward to learning some of these.

Permadeath might be necessary to truly beat the challenge of Moria or any roguelike, but it's not necessary to the player's enjoyment of the game. I think Moria without permadeath (and perhaps a smaller dungeon) would be at least as fun as anything that came out in 1983. Through its extensive item and monster lists, it captures the spirit of tabletop role-playing games better than most other CRPGs. By saving once every two level transitions, I still preserve the sense of really not wanting to die, but without the utter despair that comes with losing a Level 20 character on Level 30 of the dungeon. Except for the absolute landmark games in the genre, I fear you're not going to see me play more roguelikes like this.

As for Moria, even with save-scumming, I don't expect to win very soon, so we'll probably move on to Quest for the Unicorn. I'll keep playing Moria in the background and we'll see how long it takes.


  1. When searching, you can precede the 's' search command with a count. For example, '10s' will search ten times. Then move three spaces to the right, repeat, etc. Also useful for digging. This works for nethack as well. In Moria, if you type '0' for the count the game will assume 99. Thus casting Word of Recall and then '0s' will zip you right up to the town (assuming no monster comes up and attacks, in which case the searching will stop). You can also stop the activity by hitting any key, though on today's fast computers I doubt you can even see the numbers going by.

    You can also toggle 'search mode' by typing capital-S. That will search once every time you move. Convenient, but easy to forget when you're trying to flee from a monster. Everyone knows the '=' command for displaying all the options, right? There's also wizard mode for those who have given up and want TWO asterisks on their win.

    Something I always liked about Moria was how it separated its spells into different books with different themes of spells. That, and mining the dunegon walls for gems and gold, and luring Creeping Coins out to an empty area so that they'd have the maximum chance to drop their treasure.

    1. The search-mode (always do one search action when you move one step) and the count with actions (like 's'earch) are very valuable.

      The most important easy trick the Addict seem to miss is R*. R=Rest and then you give the number of turns. * means "until HP and Mana are back to max". Much smarter than keeping 's' pressed (since you could easily be killed by something then).

    2. And a little something on speed (camouflaged just in case it is considered a spoiler, but should be obvious to the Addict as soon as he gets to play with other speeds than "normal") :

      Gur fcrrq flfgrz vf rkgerzryl fvzcyr. Gur cnentencu gur Nqqvpg cbfgrq vf pbzcyrgryl jebat. Fvzcyl chg lbh unir zbfg perngherf (naq gur cynlre) ba abezny fcrrq. Gura lbh unir n srj n fybj fcrrq juvpu vf rknpgyl unys bs abezny. Gura lbh unir snfg, juvpu vf qbhoyr abezny fcrrq. Naq rkgerzryl snfg juvpu vf qbhoyr snfg fcrrq. (Naq jvgu rkgerzr yhpx naq/be fcryyf) lbh pna trg hc gb fcrrq 5.

      Va nqqvgvba lbh unir n "ahzore bs nggnpxf" (ng yrnfg va gur yngre irefvbaf) juvpu vf qrcraqrag ba lbhe fgeratgu naq gur jrvtug bs gur jrncba. Guvf pna tvir lbh (be zbafgref) hc gb 4 nggnpx cre zbir.

    3. Is the speed something that exists behind the scenes, or should I be able to see it somewhere? Nothing in my character sheet shows anything to do with speed.

      I wonder if there might be version differences here. Despite having explored down to level 62 (my playing is ahead of my blogging), I've yet to find a single item that has anything to do with speed--no boots, no rings, no potions--though there is a "Haste" spell in my spellbook, so clearly it has some effect.

      I also haven't encountered the "Ancient, Multi-Hued Dragon" that everyone talks about, nor have I encountered the balrog on any of the >50 levels. I suspect the DOS version I'm playing is different from what most people are talking about.

    4. Speed shows with the text at the bottom of the screen: Slow - nothing - Fast - Very Fast. Higher isn't displayed, but you can get up to 3 permanent speed increases and one temporary (several temporary speed increases doesn't stack).

      Try casting "Haste" and see the "Fast" displayed on the bottom of the screen. (Or just load up on very heavy equipment or drink a potion of slowness (at a safe place) to see "Slowed" appear.)

      And as for diving deep, it shouldn't be needed to go below 2550, just go up and down between 2500 and 2550. They regnereate ;-)

      I won on version 4.8.7 the first time back in winter of 89/90, so I don't think there is a version difference. I'm surprised you haven't seen the Big D, though. I hope your version isn't bugged.

      I think the Evil Iggy was introduced a version or two later. Then you would always get either Evil Iggy or Balrog at any level below 50. Now you'll just have to find the Balrog by walking stairs and casting Detect Monster.

      BTW, there is no real point in finding Mr. Capital B unless you have at least one permanent speed item, temporary speed spell/staff, Potions of Invulnerability (not needed with 2 or 3 speed items, but still very useful), good weapon (preferably a HA) and fire resistance (preferably temporary in addition to permanent). He is rather nasty...

    5. Yeah, I think people are giving advice based on Angband and the last version of Moria. It might be good to specify which version you're playing in the title, it might cut down on some irrelevant comments.

    6. I had to hex-edit my character from the 120,000 experience points that I had to the 350,000 I needed to reach Level 33 and thus acquire "Haste." I cast it. The word "fast" did not appear at the bottom of the screen. It did seem to affect my speed in combat, but even at that level, I was unable to defeat an Ancient Red Dragon despite having a Ring of Fire Resistance and 5 potions of cure critical wounds.

      I've made more than 2 dozen trips to levels below 50 and have yet to encounter the Balrog or any items with permanent haste or speed on them.

      At this point, I don't think I'm going to continue with the game. I've clearly played enough to get the gist of it.

    7. Definitely agree there, Addict. Winning at Moria takes lots and lots of hours even if you save scum and read spoilers. I don't think I saw more than 2 others ever winning at the university server with centralized save games during my 5 years there...

      The main reason is that it is (for most) much more fun diving fast and taking risks in the game. To win you need to stay careful, conservative and basically boring. The skill most needed is probably patience.

      I'm a bit surprised that the "fast" didn't appear on screen (approximatly in the middle, 2 lines from the bottom of a standard terminal window.) I know I won on the same version you use, and can't remember that I didn't get that. It could be a sloppily compiled (or intentionally modified) binary, or just my rusty memory from 25 years back.

      You really need permanent speed items (and all stats at max; 18/00) before going that deep. It usually took one weekend (20-30 hours) to get a character ready to start searching for speed items: I stayed at 1250 feet (+/- 1 level) looking for stat increase potions (which are most plentiful around there) until all stats were maxed out.
      Then the next step (after 20-30 hours) was going down to 2400 feet to get at least one permanent speed item. They are supposedly most plentiful from 2500 feet down, but at 2400 I won't meet Big B and I have 1 level of security in case of a trap-door dropping me one level down.

      Ancient Dragons are fast. To kill them you preferably need a SD (Slay Dragon) weapon, more speed than them, which requires a permanent item and a spell/staff/potion), protection from their element _and_ potions of resist their element (one potion/mushroom and one ring or other item stacks for double resistance 1/9 damage instead of 1/3, I think). And even with that they hit _hard_ so you should have good armour as well. And remember to teleport away to heal. I think the Balrog is the only monster to heal at all, and even if others do they do it much slower than you.

      Since you're even playing before version 5 you probably should use the "Grape Jelly Trick" as well to win. It's an exploit that came in two versions. One is (imo) pure cheating the other simply a way to patch an error that was fixed in version 5: Grape Jellies drain your XP, but does (almost?) no damage. The trick is to let it drain you down to level 1 (or 3 if you don't save scum, it's not fun to die from the trick). In the "cheater versions" you would then get Mana and HP (increasing you max with the gain from your new, improved stats) re-applied when you used a scroll or mushroom of restoration (giving a possibility for infinite HP and Mana).
      In the "fix a bug" versions it would just give you the difference between what you got when you first levelled up and what you would get with you current stats (which is automatically done in versions after 5).

      Anyway I'm looking forward to the conclusion.

    8. I'll take your advice in Angband if it has the same rules. As I said below, I'm not convinced speed items or artifact weapons actually exist in this version. If they do, they're so rare that almost three dozen visits to levels below 50 have failed to turn any up.

    9. Well, you got me curious enough to dig up the 4.8.7 source code :-)

      Both speed items and EGO-weapons are in there (unless the one who compiled your executables took it out to be funny - ha ha...). But they are exceedingly rare (and has always been, really). I don't know how many hours you have spent, but I have vivid memories of playing all the way up to level 36, 37 and 38 with none or only a useless EGO-weapon and no speed items.

      And then just as vivid memories of finding Boots of Speed [+1] on 250 feet (and once killing singing, happy drunks in town for all evenings a full week to buy a ring of speed from the shop...). In both cases I got over confident and died around level 20...

    10. I'm really getting curious here. Your version seems to be rather strange, and the .3 at the end indicates a higher version than the final official version from Koeneke before Grabiner took over development and started the 5.-versions.

      Where did you find your version? I would be happy to take a look and see what I can find in the source :-)

    11. I downloaded it from here:

      While I suppose it's worth correcting my assumptions if they're wrong, for the sake of future generations reading these posts, you will absolutely NOT be doing me any favors by telling me that these special items DO exist and I just need to keep playing and have patience. I would much rather believe that this version is unwinnable and move on.

    12. :-D
      I'll keep my mouth shut. But then again, only have the binary distribution, so it will take quite a while to decompile and check :-)

  2. "By saving once every two level transitions, I still preserve the sense of really not wanting to die, but without the utter despair that comes with losing a Level 20 character on Level 30 of the dungeon."

    As much as I enjoy reading about archaic roguelikes - learning how Nethack worked was fascinating - I want to see more of the 90's games too. So, I'm thankful for the compromise.

  3. I did the same thing in Shin Megami Tensei 4: It was the only game in the series to allow unlimited saves rather than save points, and it was extremely even if you saved as much as possible, but I restricted myself to specific things like before and after bosses, finishing dungeons and getting great demon fusions.

    1. I just wish games gave you the option to force the issue. I don't like having to trust my own willpower to maintain the challenge of a game.

    2. There's another aspect to consider Chet, which is one of joint experience:

      When two players play a game with arbitrary saving, they will have a similar experience of the game only if they take a similar approach to saving games. When you have a game with permadeath or restricted saving (dark souls?) the fact that people are more likely to be playing by similar rules means greater communal experience.

      It's not just restricted to RPGs either. There is far more passionate conversation about the gameplay in Goldeneye (no saves, 2 to 20 minute missions) than there is in BioShock (defaults to respawn on death with enemies that are still damaged).

  4. I was at a conference last year where Mark Johnson (the developer behind the passion project/roguelike Ultima Ratio Regum, which is 3.5 years into his ten year development plan for it) gave a talk that looked at the historical approaches to representation in roguelikes. Among other things, he talked about the different approaches to representing monsters in different roguelikes, contrasting idiosyncratic approaches to monster abbreviations to more complex ones based on using letters and colors to group certain categories of monsters together. It really opened my eyes to how much complexity can be embedded visually within the ASCII set.

  5. Is Valeria Starshine a tribute to the Order of the Stick?

  6. Hey CRPG Addict - Love your Blog so thanks - quick question - what is your stance on plain old cheating?

    Seems you have relaxed your stance somewhat to allow exploits like save scumming etc. for certain games so why not just cheat? For example you comment about their cant be many people that have won Moria legitimately so in the interests of finishing the game (and not spending 40+ hours as you commented) would you consider just cheating like editing the save?

    Just curious because after many years of casually playing rogue on the odd occasion (and never getting that deep) reading your Blog posts on Moria have prompted me to fire it up again but this time I have just cheated by editing the save (still messing around but have given myself a whack of hit points and can edit quantities of food and scrolls etc.) and TBH I don't feel that bad about doing it LOL

    1. I've done it a couple of times just to see the winning screen, but only a couple of times, and only when a depiction of the endgame wasn't available online.

      I think at that point, you're no longer playing the game at all, and I wouldn't call winning any kind of achievement at all. It wouldn't even be fun to play anymore once you opened up that window. If save-scumming is nominally against my rules, editing save files is WAY against my rules.

      See this post for my general feelings:

  7. There's a funny legend about the quylthulg name. Apparently, the dev of Moria came up with name while drunk coding, and it just stuck.

  8. "There can't be many people who have legitimately won Moria."

    You can say that again. I played this game, back in the day when there were no spoilers available. I played extensively and got pretty good, as did one of my mage characters. High level, speed equipment, ready for anything! Except the Balrog. I found the beast and got killed in no time at all. I was left dumbstruck.

    My next succesfull character was a ranger. He got there prepared even better. After enormous battle that exhausted all his equipment he still lost, no questions asked.

    I haven't played Moria again for 20 years.

  9. In response to a few things you mentioned in this post:

    - Pure warriors can win Moria through reliance on scrolls and potions. In fact, the final battle will require an immense stockpile of healing even for caster classes.

    - Items are assigned to specific depths in the code. They become exponentially more likely as you get closer to those depths. If I remember correctly, farming is optimal between 1800-2400 feet. Beyond that the monsters get harder without many additional drops. But take those depths with a grain of salt because it's been a LONG time since I saw the code.

    - Resting by holding down the 's' key is eventually suicidal; inevitably a monster will come kill you before you can let go of the key at some point. One reader suggested R followed by * and I think that works in Moria. Another modifier that was added at some point is R followed by &, which will rest until EITHER your hit points or your mana is capped, but I don't recall whether that is in Moria or just Angband.

    Numbers can also precede things like tunneling to speed that up.

    1. On further reflection, two things:
      1) R followed by & will rest until a status change. So for example, it can rest until you are no longer blinded. Still not sure if this was implemented in Moria.
      2) I'm becoming less certain of the depths I mentioned. I think Ring of Speed farming was optimal closer to 2800' so I don't want to lead you astray.

    2. Also, a Moria/Angband game is usually played over the course of many sessions often spanning months. I believe that when you get a sense of it, the idea of a 40-50 hour game will seem impossible. But there is such a sense of progression over the course of the hundreds of hours which most people invest in each character that the time doesn't seem wasted. Each session brings upgrades and/or enhances the stockpile of powerful potions/scrolls needed for the final battle.

    3. This version doesn't allow you to put numbers in front of commands to execute them multiple times. Not unless there's some trick that I'm not seeing.

      You're correct about "s" and "r" of course, but keep in mind that I'm save-scumming, so the prospect of death isn't as terrifying as in a regular game. I've yet to be attacked holding down "s." Monsters don't respawn in your active area that often.

      I'm not convinced that items "of Speed" exist in this version. I haven't found any, the manual doesn't say anything about speed, and the download came with some very high-level sample characters, none of whom have anything involving speed.

      I simply can't spend that much time on a single character, regardless of the creators' intent. I can spend that much time on the TOTALITY of the game, as I did in NetHack, understanding that winning will be a real victory and I'll lose dozens of characters along the way, but months on one character is just nuts.

    4. Yeah. Overall, Angband is a much more rewarding game. Experiencing Moria does give you a good baseline for seeing how that branch developed over time.

  10. There are oodles of Moria derivatives, all with their own quirks (I used to play Zangband but also played a DOS version of Moria with colours), but generally they all hew to the rule that you can take it slow and grind up stats and gear to the max before diving.

    Though a late version of Zangband had 'quests' which would put a number of tough monsters at specified levels, which you could not pass by without killing them all. Mini-bosses, basically.

    1. I think I would like that. Breaks the monotony a bit and presents the main quest in stages.

    2. Zangband was my favorite variant also. It's worth playing Angband first to see how it improved on Moria, but then Zangband takes everything to the next level.

  11. My earliest exposure to Moria (and to roguelike games period) was a DOS version that had several classes that weren't in the standard versions, including Sages, Ninjas, Wizards (I forget how they differed from Mages) and Jesters. It seems this version may have been called "pmoria",but I can't find any information about it now other than a single Usenet post (one asking about the Sage/Ninja spell books, which I remember also being unable to figure out and reluctantly concluding that those classes were simply unfinished and unplayable in the version I had)

    I can't even remember how I discovered the game. It may have been on a shareware CD with other games, or I may have downloaded it from Compuserve (remember that?) Does anyone else remember this version of Moria?


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