Posted by: Ben | February 25, 2010

Man vs Genre: Moria

The Facts

Even the roguelikes that are no longer actively updated tend to have aged better than commercial titles, and were quite often substantially better to begin with. Moria was written in 1983 (by one Robert Alan Koenecke) and its source code later became the foundation for the Angband lineage [the roguelike being one of the few genres that evolve in the literal sense]. This version has four names on the credits and a date of 1994.

The Lore

The fiction is apparently an unauthorised and very loose adaptation of something called The Lord Of The Rings by JR Hartley. The basic set-up is that there’s a town built right on top of a mine, and if you go down to the bottom of this mine and kill the Balrog who lives there the game will end.

Character Building

One of the suggestions made early on in the doorstop of a manual is that “spell casting generally demands a more experienced player that is familiar with survival techniques,” and once I got over my hurt feelings from being referred to as “that” instead of “who”, I concluded that such a player isn’t me and probably never will be. So time to put the old magic wand away and settle for Plan B, which is theoretically predicated on building a character to be the hardest bastard in the room. In practical terms I’d settle for a character who with dedication and care could be capable of becoming said hypothetical bastard.

Meet Butch Korma II. He’s half-troll on his mother’s side (which sounds like a tale in itself) and his job is Warrior. He’s twenty-one years old, nine-and-a-half feet tall, weighs 22 stone and is entirely illiterate. After trying to read the manual I can sympathise. Butch also has puke yellow eyes, dirty bright red hair and black scabby skin. Once he gets deaded in Moria I am going to role-play him on weight loss message boards until he levels up and becomes a full troll.

Here are Butch Korma II’s stats:

Strength 17
Intelligence 9
Wisdom 10
Dexterity 7
Constitution 17
Charisma 7

Let’s hope that his freakishly low dexterity isn’t going to mean he can’t hold a weapon properly, like what happened in Ultima 2 the other day. Weirdly, Butch’s character page also says he is Social Class 1, which makes him the higher professional / managerial kind of half-troll warrior.

The Game

So since we’re in an actual proper town, for the record I’m going to assume I can come back to it any time I want. Presumably I need weapons and equipment. I have 80 gold, which doesn’t sound like much but is more than I have ever had in real life. I attempt to walk south and the first thing the game says is “Tunnel through what? Empty air?!?” because of course I forgot to turn Num Lock off.

First stop is the Armory (sic), run by Darg-Low the Grim. Every item has lots of statistics after it, which I’m going to have to have another read through the manual to understand.

(Ten minutes later.)

Aha, I see. It’s armor (sic) class. Everything is rather pricey in here, so all I buy is cheap boots and gloves. I skip the magic shop and head for the General Store, where I buy food. The weaponry shop doesn’t seem to sell anything better than I already have, and the scroll shop sells only two affordable scrolls, neither of which I can think of a use for. There’s nothing else to do in this town, so it’s time to have a wander around the dungeon and see if anything kills me.

On the way down, according to the text, I pass through a one-way door. This could prove to be a mistake. Disturbingly, everything is completely dark, nor does any automapping occur. Wandering around, I find a room. It contains a reptile, a kobold and some treasure. I suddenly remember that I have not yet attempted to wear or equip any of my armour or weaponry, and wonder if the game does this kind of needless busy-work automatically or not. I wear and/or wield absolutely everything I’ve got: cloak, gloves, boots, armour and stiletto dagger. Time to kill me a reptile. I hope it’s something easily killed, like a box turtle. It’s a large brown snake. Never mind, I’m sure I’ll be able to take care of it.

Soon I discover what is interesting about Moria. It scrolls. Compared to earlier roguelikes, the levels are vast, extending for many screens in each direction. Not long after that I discover what else is interesting. I’ve been fumbling around in the dark since I started playing, and if I light up a torch it does, in fact, automap. At this point I enter standard dungeon-explorer mode. I map the level, murder every living creature I can find and head downstairs. I get into a fight with a Novice Mage and a Novice Warrior Then I try to force a stuck door open and it casts a spell on me, making me Afraid. (At least that’s what I thought was happening at the time, but with hindsight it’s more likely that I had a spell cast on me by an invisible monster.)

Attempting to attack a priest (I’ll probably feel guilty later) I get the message: “You are too afraid. The novice priest hits you. You feel bolder now,” which conjures the amusing mental image of a priest giving me a slap and telling me to get on with attacking him.

I explore the dungeon for a while, and get into some fights with monsters. It gets a little tense on occasion, but I impress myself by failing to die. Soon I have acquired enough money and useless junk to want to start thinking about returning to town to sell stuff and buy other, more expensive, stuff. What with the game generating a new dungeon every time you move up or down a floor, this takes a bit of exploration, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.

Back in town I accidentally kill a Blubbering Idiot. I half-expect this to make other blubbering idiots think twice before crossing my path uninvited, but in actuality it only seems to encourage them.

Part 2 is here.

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