Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Moria: Fouler things than orcs

My current feelings about Moria are a little more favorable than they were during my first posting, but not much. It's fairer than Rogue, but also more boring, and for how slow this game is, with its huge dungeons that run twice as deep, it's still not quite fair enough - bad luck can kill you and undo days of progress no matter how carefully you play.

Starting now, I'm permitting myself one save backup per day. Enough that I won't have to totally restart and lose days or even weeks of progress, and perhaps afford to play a bit more adventurously, while still forcing myself to be cautious, to fear death, and occasionally accept semi-permanent setbacks.

I returned to town with a good 1,600 gold pieces and loaded up on lightweight armor and a warhammer for good measure, plus two scrolls of word-of-recall (one to go straight to level 12, one for the return trip), and some rations and oil. With the 100 pieces left over I bought some scrolls of Treasure Detection. I probably wasn't going to be able to equip much better gear with my mediocre strength and slight Elvish build, but I noticed that the stores were now selling scrolls of Enchant Armor and Enchant Weapon. They'd still be there when I was richer, I figured.

91 lbs at 5'9" seems anorexic even for an elf.


In Rogue a Slow Digestion item would be godly. Here it's barely a convenience.

My strategy, henceforth, was to play by this loop:

  • Buy two scrolls of word-of-recall
  • Replenish rations and oil flasks
  • Upgrade gear as much as possible
  • Buy scrolls of Treasure Detection and other toys with leftover money
  • Read a scroll of word-of-recall to return to the lowest visited level
  • If no meaningful progress occurred (such as leveling up, or finding/buying improved gear, stat-upgrading potions, or other permanently useful things) during the last loop, then take the first staircase downward
  • Explore the entire level, using Treasure Detection to find veins of precious metal, killing as much as I can, collecting as much loot as I can find and carry
  • Word-of-recall out at the first sign of trouble or when the level is explored
  • Buy all the scrolls of identify, identify everything, sell everything I don't want to keep for the maximum price
  • If stat-drained, buy potions of restoration if available
  • Repeat the loop

 

My runs were for the most part uninteresting, and more often than not, a single loop was enough per level. Sleep, retreat, and repeatedly blast with magic missile worked fairly reliably, though eventually I graduated to Frost Bolt and Fire Bolt, and started using Slow Monster once Sleep began to fail me.

I took notes on some of the more interesting encounters.

  • One room had an invisible dexterity-draining nuisance. After dealing with it I made a habit of purchasing scrolls of Detect Invisibility, which turned out to be not as useful as you might hope as it only reveals invisible creatures for a single turn. Deeper there were even level-draining invisible things.
  • Molds come in many varieties and they tend to do bad things to you when you stand near them. Thankfully they can't move, but they sometimes camp near room entrances. Stone-to-mud helps you enter without brushing against them.
  • Disenchanter type monsters, whose attacks can debuff your magic gear.
  • Brigands steal items from your pack. I lost a book of magic this way! Thankfully no spells were lost when I re-bought it.
  • Invisible summoners are nasty guys who are nearly impossible to locate/kill and will swarm you with monsters. They necessitated a retreat/recall every time.
  • Gelatinous Cubes are no good, obviously, because they will trash your armor if they get near you. Thankfully they're quite slow, so I would deal with them by blasting them with moderately powerful spells, then running to safety, resting to recover mana, and returning while employing Detect Monster to avoid an unpleasant surprise. They seem to drop good stuff too.
  • Umber Hulks! They're as bad as they are in Rogue; their confusing gaze renders you unable to effectively fight, cast spells, or read scrolls, and one of my deaths occurred when I descended stairs into a room with an Umber Hulk and a single self-replicating rat.
  • Stone Giants sound powerful, but a single cast of stone-to-mud instantly kills them. Golems too.

 

Eventually I was able to buy some scrolls of enchant armor and weapons as a regular part of my shopping which I read immediately. The armor enchantment would boost a random piece of armor, and the weapon enchantments would enhance my equipped weapon, though it would sometimes fail as the numbers got higher. I also picked up the final spellbook, which was too advanced for me to learn anything within right away, but gave a glimpse of some powerful spells like "Haste Self," "Teleport Other," and even "Genocide."

By character level 17, my Identify spell's success rate increased to 19%, which sounds poor, but worked often enough that it was worthwhile to use it instead of relying on scrolls, which always sold out too quickly.

Some of the monsters I found on levels 20 through 35 were:

  • Wights and vampires drain your levels on touch, but move slightly slower than you, and some varieties stop to cast spells. They can be beaten without trouble by retreating and firing spells behind you as you gain distance, provided you have enough charted distance behind you (and don't back into a respawned or aggroed monster)
  • Giant Purple Worms look like regular worms, but are incredibly tough, and barf armor-destroying acid all over you. 
  • Spirit Trolls normally aren't too bad, but one time I encountered two of them embedded in the walls of a narrow corridor, where I couldn't hit them, but they could hit me. By the time I realized what was going on, it was too late to save myself.
  • Young Dragons, who resist spells, inflict several hits, and breathe deadly elements. If you can hit them with a cast of Slow Monster then you can kite them and even beat them in melee, but their breath makes things dicey.

 

I am now at character level 27, and have made multiple unsuccessful attempts at surviving dungeon level 36. I'm starting to encounter Mature Dragons, who are like Young Dragons but stronger and more likely to use their devastating breath attacks. Gray Wraiths are like Wights but have a mana-draining ability at a distance which robs me of my offensive power, and my retreat-and-cast-spells strategy quickly forced me into a corner where another bad thing killed me. Mana in general runs out very quickly; I have 41 points, and my workhorse offensive spell Fire Bolt costs 9, and plenty of monsters need two or more. Magic Missile is probably more efficient per point, but it's just too weak to use against anything that poses a threat unless it's quite far away or immobile. Spells like Sleep and Confuse hardly ever work any more. Slow Monster works on occasion but takes 9 points and usually requires a few tries. I do have access to some spells that I haven't tried much of yet like Polymorph Other, Teleport Other, and Haste Self.



Friday, November 20, 2020

Moria: Too greedily and too deep

I returned to my DOSBox setup to take another stab at Moria. I had already tried playing as a half-troll, powerful in melee but bad at everything else, and a dwarven warrior, skilled at combat, exploration and survival though poor at stealth. Both ran into trouble with stat-draining monsters, especially the Red Naga who drains your utterly critical strength, which is prohibitively expensive to restore at the levels where you're likely to encounter them!

I thought for my third try I'd go for the polar opposite - a halfling mage. Weak as a kitten, I wasn't able to carry much equipment or be of much use in melee combat, but with enough magic power, perhaps I wouldn't need it.

Magic isn't quite like any game I've seen yet. There are four spellbooks in the game of incrementing expertise, and as a mage you start with the beginner's book, which contains these spells:

  • L1: Magic Missile
  • L1: Detect Monsters
  • L1: Phase Door
  • L1: Light Area
  • L3: Cure Light Wounds
  • L3: Find Hidden Traps/Doors
  • L3: Stinking Cloud

Immediately upon starting the game, you may learn any one of the L1 spells. Each time you level up, you may learn another spell within your level, provided you own the book. Further spells must be found in other books, whose availability circulate in the magic shop.

I started with magic missile, knowing I'd rely on it to survive combat. Casting a learned spell costs mana, and I made it a point to recover mana through rest whenever possible. This would mean I'd go through rations and lanterns quickly, but that was okay. I could always buy more.

I did learn very early on that you shouldn't cast magic missile at point blank range. Magic is not a substitute for melee skill; a kobold on the first level survived a close range blast and then one-shotted my level 2 hobbit mage in retaliation.

White worms also posed a problem for my mage, when they hadn't for previous warriors.


These creatures reproduce. My warrior characters could kill them faster than they could reproduce, but for my apprentice mage, this wasn't really an option, as after just a few casts of magic missile I'd need to rest to recharge, allowing them to breed replacements. This was perhaps a blessing in disguise; I could retreat into the tunnel where they couldn't overwhelm me, and score loads of easy XP by poking my head out to blast a few more. I eventually reached level 5 this way and had just enough mana to thin their ranks enough to pass through.

Being a mage also grants some really nice powers that just aren't possible otherwise. By level 3, I learned the incredibly handy Find Hidden Traps/Doors spell, which reveals them within a pretty wide radius, which is not only much better and more effective than searching everywhere, but also reveals staircase locations, saving you from needing to search absolutely everywhere if the staircase was all you wanted to find.

Just like that I know about secret doors in rooms I haven't even been to yet.

Unfortunately, on dungeon level 2, I got blindsided by a giant black bat which quickly chewed right through my HP.

I tried again with an elf, figuring he might stand a slightly better chance of surviving these situations.

With this try, I found a pretty effective way to haggle. Begin by offering 1/12th of the asking price. Feel free to round down or up to a nice round number. It will be rejected and counter-offered. Then offer double your initial bid, then triple, and so on until you meet in the middle. The first few bids might annoy the shopkeeper, which gets you a dialog distinct from the usual haggling banter and possibly ejected from the shop for a few thousand turns if you keep it up, but most likely you'll reach an agreement and save a good amount off the initial asking price.

In case you're curious about optimization, this is what I determined to be the formula for haggling:
Percent * (Current asking price - Your last offer)

"Percent" is an unknown variable dependent on the shopkeeper's disposition, but through trial, error, and logic, it shouldn't be too difficult to determine. The shopkeeper expects you to increase your bid by at least this much, and will get annoyed and possibly throw you out if you don't. The initial bid expectation is mysterious to me (it seems to be a shopkeeper-based percentage of the initial asking price) but I found that this formula will very accurately predict the shopkeeper's tolerance for being lowballed on every subsequent bid. Following it exactly is pretty boring though, so the 1/12th method seems to work well enough.

Selling follows this formula, to determine how much the shopkeeper expects you to lower your offer by:
Percent * (Your last offer - Shopkeeper's current offer)

There's no good way to find out their upper tolerance for the initial offer except to guess and back out. They will always ask you to make the first offer, and always reject it, with offense taken if it was too high.

After a few failed attempts, including one where the dungeon entrance dumped me right next to a monster that I could not kill with my paltry starting mana or fight, I managed to have a character who survived long enough to buy the next spellbook and learn some of its spells.

Magic missile remained my primary damage dealer even as I unlocked more advanced ones. It may not be the most powerful spell - hard to know for sure as the game doesn't tell you how much damage you're dealing - but at only one mana point per cast, it's certainly the most efficient one. Usually I'd be able to pick off monsters from a distance by flinging several magic missiles, dealing lethal damage before they'd get into swatting range. It has a small failure rate, and because it fails before you are prompted to enter a direction, muscle memory would cause me to tap a direction anyway making me walk toward the monster that I intended to zap.

Detect Monsters is another cheap, useful spell, that can do a lot to prevent nasty surprises, but since it only reveals them for a single turn, you must be diligent about casting it frequently.

Guess we're not going that way.

 

Phase Door is a short-ranged teleportation spell that can get you out of a jam should you get blindsided, but it could also just teleport you deeper into it. Light Area is what it sounds like and is cheap and useful. Stinking Cloud damages groups of enemies in a radius, but at four MP it's pretty expensive for how much damage it does.

In the second spellbook, confusion is a terrific spell should you step through a door and bump right into something nasty in the dark. Sleep I is even better, though it has a higher failure rate, but if it works, you can skedaddle and rest to regain your MP before returning and blasting the sleeping baddie from afar. It's extra satisfying when the sleep victim blocks off a door so that his friends can't follow you. Lightning Bolt just seems like a more powerful Magic Missile, but for its cost of four mana I'd rather just cast Magic Missile four times. Frost Bolt is a whopping six mana and has a somewhat high failure rate, but by the time I got it, there were occasions where I really needed to kill something in a hurry, and couldn't cast sleep and retreat as there was nothing to retreat to. Lastly, Stone to Mud removes a dungeon wall, which isn't terribly useful except as a means of clearing a path to veins of precious metals revealed by a scroll of Find Treasure.

I did eventually save up and buy the third book of magic, and quickly learned Identify thinking it would be a convenient alternative to Identify scrolls, but at the level where I could learn it, the 87% failure rate just made it impractical.

After days of playing cautiously, and having a few close calls saved only by a timely word-of-recall scroll, I decided to start backing up my character on occasion. Hours later, I just wanted to see how far I could go without stumbling into a world of hurt, so I just took the stairs whenever possible without bothering to farm or grind. The answer is level 13, where I emerged right into a pandemonium of rapidly reproducing giant gnats and various other nasties including some invisible, dexterity-draining horrors.

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