Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Game 443: Moria (1986)

The title screen/main menu.
Independently developed and published (presumably) as freeware
Released 1986 for DOS
Date Started: 9 January 2022
Date Ended: 10 January 2022
Total Hours: 11 (about 8 characters)
Difficulty: Very Hard (5.0/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later) 
This French roguelike is listed as Moria 2 on several sites, and that is its file name, at least in the version I found, but the title screen just calls it Moria. The "2" wouldn't really make sense, as it has nothing to do with the 1983 roguelike (which wasn't available on the microcomputer until 1988 anyway). Instead, it's an adaptation of Rogue--to the extent that it even has the same attributes and lists them at the bottom of the screen in the same order.
The programmer either wanted to do something different or didn't know how to program the rooms and corridors of the original, so Moria's dungeon levels are all tiny rooms and doorways. I feel like I've seen this style in some previous game, but I can't quite place it.

Beyond the nature of the map, these are the changes from Rogue:
  • Moria has no "search" command. There are no secret doors to find anyway. There are traps; you identify them automatically when you're one step away.
  • Moria has only 15 levels to Rogue's near-30. They're larger and packed with more monsters and treasures, though, so the game feels about the same size.
  • In line with the change in the name of the game, Tolkien monsters are introduced, including Uruk-hai, Nazgûl, Mewlips, and "whargs." The "floating eye" monster from Rogue is specifically re-cast as an Eye of Sauron. More on Tolkien influences below.
A balrog turns out to be Sauron.
  • Because of the additional monsters, some classic Rogue monsters don't appear, including the aquator, the medusa, the ice monster, the venus flytrap, and the rattlesnake. The game thus avoids some of the more annoying status effects from Rogue. There are still fairies who steal your items and thieves who steal your gold, replacing nymphs and leprechauns in the original.
  • The commands are generally translated; for instance, you a)bandonner un objet rather than d)rop it, and you b)oire une potion rather than q)uaff it. There are similar changes to the letters that represent monsters. This isn't universal, though, as (for instance) "T" is still used to throw an object, and the floating eye is still represented as an "E" rather than an "O." Although most of the text of the game is in French, when you first start a game, it inexplicably asks you in English to "Wait a little minute, while I dig the Moria."
  • The game offers some "graphics" instead of the all-ASCII approach taken by the original Rogue. The main character uses the same smiley face icon as the 1985 Epyx re-release of Rogue and the 1986 Rogue Clone. There are also characters for potions and armor, but everything else is a letter or keyboard symbol. 
  • You cannot move diagonally.
  • You can go up stairways to return to earlier levels, and the game does remember their layout and treasures.
  • Your position is randomized when you arrive on each level (going up or down), although the stairways remain in fixed locations.
  • In addition to hunger, the game has a "thirst" mechanic by which you must occasionally drink a potion whether you need it or not. There's a special "thirst-quenching" potion (désaltérante) added to the game to help in such situations, the only equipment addition that I saw.

The game begs me to drink.
  • Perhaps most important, the game has no "save" command. At least, it has none that I can find. None is listed among the list of commands, and I tried every key not listed with a specific command, with both SHIFT and CTRL, and found nothing that worked.
  • Changes to the endgame covered below.
Everything else is pretty much the same as Rogue, including the "character creation" process (just a name), the starting attributes (12 life, 16 strength), starting equipment (mace, mail, bow and arrows, food), and the different types of inventory items you can find. As usual, potions have colors randomized for each new game, wands have different materials, and scrolls have difference nonsense words. You can experiment with these items and hope you identify them or you can wait for Scrolls of Identification (although you have to test scrolls to find even them). When you die or win, your score is calculated based on your experience, the dungeon level you reached, and the gold you amassed.
"Character creation."

What I often forget about Rogue is that it's far harder than NetHack. It gives you fewer tactical and strategic avenues. The food system (and in this variant, the thirst system) makes it almost impossible to grind. Enemies rarely drop loot, so you're stuck with whatever seeded in the levels in the first place. A winning game depends enormously on the random numbers producing an ideal set of equipment.
Moria manages to make Rogue even harder in the endgame. Monsters that you never even want to try to take on in a melee fight start appearing around Level 8. They include dragons, Nazgûl, balrogs, and galgals. ( (A galgal is a type of Celtic burial mound. The term was used by Francis Ledoux in his 1973 French translation of The Lord of the Rings for "barrow"; "barrow wights" became êtres des galgals.) The nature of the corridors in this game makes it hard to get away from enemies, so you end up relying a lot on limited Scrolls of Teleportation, Wands of Slow Monster, Wands of Confusion, and Potions of Speed. Scrolls of Mapping are a god-send in trying to find the stairways down. (Stairways down look exactly like stairways up, which is another annoyance.)
A mid-game equipment list.
On Level 10, Sauron appears, disguised as a balrog until you get close to him. I suppose he technically might be defeatable with a really high weapon and armor enhancement, but I couldn't even come close. He almost always hits, and he can easily kill a high-level character in a couple of hits. He can also pass through walls. You want to spend as little time on the level as possible.
Sauron chases me. He's a smiley face just like me, but our colors are reversed.
On Level 15, you find the object of your quest: a Silmaril. Morgoth appears on this level and, much like Sauron, is either invincible or nigh-invincible. You just want to get out of his way.
I find this game's Amulet of Yendor.
Rogue is pretty easy once you get the Amulet of Yendor. You just make your way back to the surface by retracing your steps. The monsters keep their original level difficulties as you do, so once you clear the bottom levels, you're home free. Moria has a couple of screws to twist instead. First, once you pick up the Silmaril, your hit points stop automatically regenerating as you move. You can only heal by finding (rare) Potions of Healing. Second, digestion starts occurring a double-speed. Thirst may come on even faster than that. I died from thirst more than from enemies trying to get back to the surface. Finally, hard enemies continue to dog you all the way back to the top, long after you've left the levels on which they originally spawned.
Winning doesn't even get you the congratulatory message about the Fighter's Guild that you got in Rogue. Instead, you just get a message that says: "You have won. Bravo," along with the leaderboard.
You couldn't even spare an exclamation point?
This is one of those games where it's hard to imagine that anyone has ever won it legitimately. Even if you're extremely lucky with loot, there are just so many situations in which you find yourself in a dead-end with a dragon (or, even worse, Sauron or Morgoth) behind you and no more Scrolls of Teleportation. A winning character would have to get his weapon and armor up to around +7 and reach Level 15 with a few Potions of Healing, at least four Potions of Thirst-Quenching, and half a dozen Scrolls of Teleportation. (There's a Ring of Teleportation, too, but I couldn't get it to work.) You want to make sure you find all the "up" staircases on the way down so you're not looking for them while your health isn't regenerating. You'd also want to mark them by dropping some equipment next to them so that you don't fight your way through a horde of enemies only to find you've reached the "down" staircase. Caching unwanted potions near these stairways would be a good idea, because when you're dying of thirst, you'll be grateful for even that Potion of Hallucination.
Morgoth hits me as I try to flee him and find the up staircase, far to my northeast. (I've revealed half the level with a Scroll of Mapping.)
I didn't try hard to win legitimately, but Moria also makes it nearly impossible to win illegitimately. Most roguelikes allow you to save, but they enforce permadeath by deleting the saved game file when you reload it (or sometimes when you die). Moria enforces permadeath by not offering save feature in the first place. To conquer it, I downloaded a variant of DOSBox that allows for save states, but it was almost more trouble than it was worth. I found that the states would usually open reliably in the same DOSBox session that they were created, but they almost never worked (they would open, but no key commands would work) if DOSBox itself was closed and re-opened after creating them. I don't like the idea of save states with DOS games anyway, so I deleted the program after I finished the game.
It did get me through this one, but with so many reloads I don't even want to try to guess. I wasn't trying to impress anyone with this one; I was just trying to document the endgame. 
In a GIMLET, I give it:
  • 0 points for no game world.
  • 1 point for character creation and development. Creation is only a name, and development is just more max hit points.
  • 0 points for no NPCs.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. I'm so tired of Tolkien references. A few of the other foes have some interesting abilities.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. There's no magic system, and combat comes down to a couple of options.
  • 4 points for equipment. The variety of usable items is always a strength in roguelikes.
A Potion of Strength always brightens the day!
  • 0 points for no economy.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are functional enough for a roguelike. Sounds are just boops. The interface couldn't be easier to master, even with the commands in French.
The easy-to-master command list.
  • 3 points for gameplay. There's a certain replayability to any roguelike, and some level of difficulty is part of the fun. This one goes a bit too far and lasts a bit too long.
That's a final score of 17, which is 7 points lower than I gave Rogue. I'm rating them 12 years apart, but there are also balance issues with Moria that creep into enough categories that its overall score is hurt.

Moria is credited on the title screen to an "AJM." I have no idea who that is. If anyone knows please share. I can't even figure the nation of origin. "France" is a guess based on the language and what a couple of web sites say, but they're probably guessing, too. It could as easily be Québécois, Belgian, or Algerian.
I'm still playing Angband but making such slow progress it might be a while longer before I have an entry's worth of material. Moria might not be a great game, but it least it has a sense of decency when it comes to the length.



  1. The level style is probably familiar because NetHack uses it for the maze levels at the bottom.

    1. I thought it looked like Wizard's Castle at first, but I guess that may just be because it resembles that game's use of squares quite a bit.

    2. There are only so many ways to repesent a top-down map using code page 437. It doesn't take much to re-invent what Nethack does for Hell/Gehennom; I've certainly seen it in non-RPGs predating Hack/Nethack.

    3. About a year or two before this game was published, there was an article in (if memory serves) Creative Computing that discussed in some detail how to develop mazes.

      If this game was not French, I would suspect that the author adapted that code, but it is probably just an example of convergent evolution.

  2. The smily face is familiar because the standard DOS ASCII set offers only a couple dozen "graphical" characters, so the smily and inverse-smily are the most obvious choices for a player character in text mode on this system.

    1. Yeah, this is, in fact, an all ASCII game, it just uses "extended" ASCII characters.

      The ASCII standard specifies characters 0-127, but left 128-255 undefined. The DOS version of ASCII put those lines used for walls in the extended set.

  3. The Ring of Teleportation in original Rogue is a cursed item. It occasionally teleports you randomly, but you have no control over it. I tried wearing it under desperate circumstances in one or two playthroughs, but it perversely only teleported me at bad times. I think it also increased food consumption, like other rings.

  4. I felt like this was De Ja Vu.

  5. iam hyped for game number 444

  6. Moria was my first exposure to Rogue-like games, many eons agos, and that was a rather unsatisfying (yet still addictive) experience. I remember being able to reach Sauron once or twice, but my version of the game would randomly deadlock a few turns after that. At least now I can bask in that glorious winning screen :)

  7. Casting doubt on this game originating from France because it's way too normal for that.

  8. That winning screen almost seems sarcastic, at least one point in favor of this being from France.

  9. It's interesting that this game has Morgoth in it but the objective is to retrieve a Silmaril. That's similar to the much, much later Angband derivative Sil, where your goal is to find and confront Morgoth, tear a Silmaril off of his crown, and then escape alive (and not to try to kill him, although you can).

    1. Both of these are, of course, based on the tale of Beren and Luthien from the Silmarillion, published in 1977 - though of course, the dungeon Beren ventured into there was called Angband, not Moria.

  10. Roguelikes look deceptively simple to write, and I'd wager there have been countless abortive attempts to create one. Balance is key in these games, and adding thirst to all the other gotchas in Rogue was a bad idea. If your only chance of winning depends on a favourable dungeon generation, you might just as well roll dice. As for the english/french split, I have a feeling the author began to translate his game, but simply gave up.

    1. There is a longstanding yearly contest to write a Roguelike in just one week. So yes, they are relatively simple to write (and usually don't require a lot of art or music resources). Writing an engaging and memorable roguelike is, of course, way harder.

  11. Uh, Phalsberg is approaching. I will hardly have the time to complete the English translation of the manual. I did about half of it, and you can find it here:

    By the way, this is probably the only one role-playing game that I ever bailed on. Ironically, "bail" is very similar to "bâiller", French for "yawn". Indeed, I gave up Phalsberg out of boredom.

    Character creation seems standard, but it is VERY tricky. Make sure you read the specific manual section.

    Well, then, enjoy! (evil laughter) :D

    1. In Phalsberg...

      gur znahny qrfpevorf irel qrgnvyrq ehyrf, cbffvoyl bar bs gur zbfg snvgushy vzcyrzragngvbaf bs gur Qhatrbaf & Qentba ehyrf, ohg gura vg znxrf gurz pbzcyrgryl hfryrff.

      Sbe rknzcyr: gurer ner qvssrerag vagryyvtrapr erdhverzragf sbe rnpu bs gur znal ynathntrf fcbxra va gur tnzr, ohg gura nyzbfg rirel punenpgre trgf vagryyvtrapr uvtu rabhtu gb fcrnx nyy bs gurz fvapr tnzr fgneg. Guhf, gur ehyr vf hfryrff!

      Punenpgre perngvba vf irel vagrerfgvat, ohg gur zbfg irefngvyr punenpgre pynffrf ner gur rnfvrfg gb bognva, juvyr gur zbfg hfryrff barf ner gur uneqrfg barf.

      Va beqre gb envfr lbhe fgeratgu, urnygu cbvagf, naq fgnzvan, va n abezny tnzr lbhe punenpgre fubhyq svtug onggyrf. Va "Cunyforet", lbhe punenpgre whfg unf gb fyrrc nf zhpu nf ur pna.

      Cercner sbe n tnzr pyrneyl vafcverq ol "Znaqentber", ohg jvgu gur wblfgvpx vagresnpr sebz "Sre rg Synzzr"! Ojnununun!!!

    2. Well maybe the rule is 'useless', but the point is that IT IS IN THERE SOMEWHWERE.

  12. There must be HUNDREDS of 'Moria'-themed games out there...

  13. >I'm so tired of Tolkien references.
    These should become less once you're finally done with the 80s and stop almost completely with the internet era because of copyright holders getting more aware of even the obscurest independently released games in time.

    >Québécois, Belgian, or Algerian.
    I wonder RPGs from the first and the last exist, the first Belgian RPG you will encounter (hopefully, since released 2002) should be Divine Divinity from Larian Studios based in Ghent. If there isn't some less known Belgian RPG from earlier than 2002 you will discover in the course of this blog.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Small correction: It should be WWW era instead of internet era.

    3. Both Tolkien and his estate were/are only really protective about his actual writings and direct representations thereof. They don't care much about works like Bored of the Rings, or games that don't portray the plot of the actual stories: they never did much to stop AD&D or Angband.

      More modern authors or their estates will typically pursue you more aggressively than that. That's a practical reason why you might see more Tolkien, even today.

    4. I can think of several games, including AD&D and the Ultima series, that make a clear effort to avoid terms like "hobbit", "balrog", "mithril", and so forth. Notably, second edition AD&D avoids words like "demon" but newer editions do use these words - but these newer edition STILL don't use the terms from Tolkien!

      It would seem that the publishers were worried about being sued by the Tolkien estate, and still are.

    5. Second edition D&D wasn't worried about the Tolkien estate when they changed "demons" and "devils" to "tanar'ri" and "baatezu", respectively; they were worried about the Satanic Panic.

      I'm not sure Tolkien even used the word "demon" to describe the Balrog. The Tolkien estate certainly wouldn't have had a leg to stand on trying to sue over those terms.

    6. Yes, that's the point. They are no longer worried about satanic panic, so they are again using words like "demon".

      And they are STILL not using the words from Tolkien, like "balrog". So it looks like they are STILL worried about lawsuits from the Tolkien family.

    7. D&D probably wouldn't use Tolkienisms at this point anyway. They have their own IP. There's little gain.

    8. Yes, they have their "own IP" that involves hobbits (that they call halflings) and balrogs (called balors) and also mithril (that is named mithral). That's totally not copied from Tolkien :D

    9. @Anonymous I believe that since they already have "halflings', there is no need to start calling them "hobbits". That's what "They have their own IP" would mean in this case.

    10. The earliest editions of DnD did use the Tolkien terms - they adopted “halfling” etc as fallback terminology after getting legal threats. See the “licensing and trademark disputes” section of this Wikipedia page for a summary and references:

    11. Interesting how circular these things can be: currently Wizards of the Coast (D&D) licenses the Tolkien IP directly for an upcoming LotR-themed Magic set. They certainly take the IP rights very seriously for a number of reasons: They're a huge target for lawsuits, they have the money to invest in legitimate licensing, and their own IP benefits from strong IP protections as well. An unfortunate side effect of their careful IP use is that none of the artists working on that set will be able to sell any of their own art on the secondary market (originals, artist proofs, prints) as they normally are allowed to with WotC IP.

    12. The funny thing about is that apart from a few creature names, the Tolkien influence on D&D is pretty shallow. Early editions also contained a lot of Lovecraft and Moorcock references, which also had to be dropped because of lawsuits.

    13. D&D borrowed copiously from Middle Earth in the beginning, much more than just the names - the entire vibe. It's slowly been moving away from that early inspiration.

    14. Do they really call it "mithral" in D&D? That's hilarious. I'd like to introduce you all to my hot new superheroes, Iryn Man and Captain Amurica. See, they're totally original so Disney can't sue.

    15. They do, in fact, use "mithral". Final Fantasy (in newer localizations) uses "mythril".

    16. "Internet Protocol"? What? Oh, I learn now from this website that "IP" is the abbreviation of at least 24 different things! Why are English-speakers so addicted to confusing abbreviations? :(

  14. Hey Addict!

    I've commented here maybe once a few years ago and then never again, but I check back to read your blog every few weeks

    I know that one of your hobbies is seeing the progression of games in their time period. I read this and immediately felt as if this might interest you, although I doubt you'll be able to read them.

    Happy gaming!

    1. That's really interesting. I often wonder about games that must have existed in countries where they were just poorly documented. None of these sounded like RPGs, and I had trouble loading the pages anyway, but if I'm wrong about any of them, I'll try to check them out.

  15. I'm pretty sure the (useless, in its original context) potion of thirst quenching existed in the Epyx versions of Rogue.

    1. That's interesting. That would give a second indicator that the authors of this one had been exposed to the Epyx version.

  16. I just read a brief entry on Moria is this really long CRPG book:


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