Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Game 83: Moria

Nathan P. Mahney at CRPG Adventures spent nearly eight months playing this game, and declared victory after finding the Reaper’s Ring buried 50 levels down in one of the game’s five dungeons. I very much doubt I’ll dedicate that kind of effort and time to this game; my only goal here is to appreciate its role as a precursor to Wizardry. But you can read his chronologue on this Herculean labor, starting here:

Moria is the third PLATO CRPG that I’ve played so far, having first come out in 1975, the same year as pedit5 and dnd. It was developed continuously for years after, as so many of these early mainframe games were, and only playable version represents the state of the game in 1984, making it impossible to know for sure how many of its current ideas were there from the start. We take it for granted, for instance, that Moria was the first RPG to feature a first person wireframe perspective, and that this later informed Oubliette and Wizardry. On the principal of lex parsimoniae, I intend to analyze the games under this assumption – it just seems like too fundamental a concept to not have been there from the beginning. And yet it’s possible that Oubliette did it first, that the continuous development of both games influenced each other, and that Wizardry and even later games may have informed Moria’s later development.

Loading Moria (the lesson name is, confusingly “0moria,” which almost prevented me from figuring out how to play it), the title screen introduces something I hadn’t seen in any PLATO game yet – color graphics!

The first thing I did was to check out the helpfile, which was up to the usual high standards of the PLATO CRPGs that I’ve seen so far.

All of this seems obvious now, but I can imagine 1975 players needing
instruction on how to interpret a first person perspective.

The first chapter tries to establish a cosmology of sorts, but it’s kind of silly and doesn’t have much to do with any ludonarrative. The land of Moria consists of five elements; earth, fire, water, air, and “vitality,” the latter of which grant life to the other four elements, and also grants intelligence, personality, and faith to “living beings” (shouldn’t the other four elements be considered living beings?).

The second chapter explains maze navigation and controls, which are almost exactly the same as in Wizardry, with WAXD keys for movement, and a separate command to open doors in front of you. It explains that there’s an overworld of sorts, consisting of a safe “City” map with stores and guilds, and a “wilderness” map with low-level encounters, few rewards, and also the entrances to the four dungeons, which each descend 60 levels of increasing challenge.

The third chapter describes character creation and development. There is no explicit class system; all men are created equal here, but instead you may join a guild once your skills are developed enough, advance through its ranks as you develop your skill further, and gain some general membership perks and a guild-specific ability. There are four skills, each favored by one of the four guilds.

Skill D&D equivalent Purpose Guild Guild ability
Cunning Dexterity, Luck Fighting initiative, thievery, evasion, opening chests, longevity Thieves Guild Better chance of finding magic items in treasure chests
Piety Wisdom Better success in praying, lower cost of praying The Brotherhood Raise group vitality
Valor Strength, Endurance Reduces damage taken, increases damage dealt, use of 1-handed weapons Union of Knights Reduced damage taken, chance to decapitate monsters
Wizardry Intelligence Better success in spells, lower cost of spells Circle of Wizards Teleport group back to city

A fifth stat, vitality, is your HP, but also serves as a pool for spellcasting, and automatically regenerates provided you have food and water. Full HP is always 100; it can’t be increased, but better stats reduce the vitality cost of taking damage and casting spells.

Characters begin life at 13 years old, and may die of old age once they reach 100. Oddly, it’s possible to attain immortality just by living long enough without dying! Upon death, you may create an “heir” and pass on some of your possessions if you are a guild member.

Moria is designed for multiplayer, and players in a group may wander and fight separately, but may not wander too far apart. The group leader is designated the “guide” and is responsible for leading the group through the maze. Only the guide may leave a maze “block” (a 6x6 grid of spaces), may not leave while any party members are fighting, and when leaving, any followers will automatically move into the next block with the guide.

The fourth chapter describes magic items, which are found in shops in the city, or by killing monsters. Deeper levels have tougher monsters, and better chances of finding magic items. Magic items are categorized as weapons or as special magic items, and the helpfile has a complete list of weapons. Special magic items are unlisted, but confer unique benefits if you’re lucky enough to find one.

These are just the one-handed weapons!

Weapons are a misnomer though; items that we would recognize as helms, armor, and shields are also classified as “weapons.”

Each “weapon” provides a boost to offense, defense, or both. This is the only thing that weapons do, even weapons with names like “Rod of Fear” and such. Weapons are divided into categories (hand, arms, head, body, etc.) and you may only equip one weapon per category, except for hands, of which you may equip two as long as both are one-handed and as long as your stats are high enough. You could equip two swords, or two shields, or one of each – they’re all just weapons as far as this rule is concerned.

Unusually, two-handed weapons do not provide inherently better stats than one-handed weapons. The only reason you would use one is because one-handed weapons require higher stats – a great sword is actually easier to wield than a single dagger! Wielding two one-handed weapons – even if the second weapon is just a shield - requires even higher stats.

The fifth chapter details spellcasting. Some spells are cast in battle, some outside, and they all cost vitality.

A little more detail would have been appreciated. Four of the five battle spells are instant kill spells – why favor one over another? Presumably some monsters are more susceptible to some spells than others, as it was in dnd, but given the huge variety of monsters, I’m not going to do the rigorous spellchecking that I did for that game.

The sixth chapter is about monsters, and your options for fighting them.
  • Fight
  • Trick – Instant kill technique that relies on cunning. Think charm spell for thieves.
  • Pray – Like spellcasting, but for priests.
    • Holy word – Instant kill
    • Escape – Run away
    • Miracle – Instantly kill all monsters, but risks annoying the gods
    • Unction – Restore some vitality if under 50
  • Bribe – Offer gold or an item for a chance to escape
  • Run – Leave combat, monsters do not regenerate (but you do)
  • Evade – Less chance to get hit, probably useless if you’re playing solo
  • Cast – Wizard spells
  • Various options for sending messages

This section also lists every monster in the game, grouped by eight categories.

Goblins are undead? There’s a Kzin in one of the lists too.

The seventh chapter is about treasure. Monsters sometimes drop treasure chests, which may contain gold, valuables, or magic items, but may also be trapped, in which case you will suffer damage from opening them in an amount inverse to your cunning skill. In a group, treasure is automatically divvied up according to how much each player contributed to the fight, with the group guide and whoever opened the chest gaining an extra share. No word on how magic items are split up.

The eighth chapter is about the city and the various things you can do there. There are no monster encounters at all. Features of the city include:
  • The weapon shop, for buying and selling items.
  • The magic shop, which despite the name sells no magic at all. It’s for selling your unwanted items, and the helpfile doesn’t say why you would prefer to sell at one store over the other.
  • The supply store, for buying food.
  • The well, for buying water.
  • The jail.
    That seems harsh!

The final chapter reviews gameplay and has lists of things you can do depending on the circumstances. There’s no real victory in this game, but this chapter suggests some long term goals.
  • Score points by killing lots of monsters, and earn yourself a place on the monthly or all-time hall of fame.
  • Become master of your guild by attaining the highest skill ranking of any member of the guild.
  • Locate the Reaper’s Ring, which moves down a level when it is found, and might be found in any of the four dungeons.

At the time of writing this, the ring had last been found on level 50, presumably by Mahney. I’m not going to be the one to find it on level 51, but I wonder, what happens when the ring is found on level 60? Does it reset to level 1? Is it gone forever?

With the helpfile read and reviewed, I started a new character. The helpfile had said that everyone begins with the same skills and abilities, but this is wrong. You may choose from one of four preset stats, each one favoring a skill and disfavoring another.

I decided to start with type ‘a’ in the hopes of joining the Thieves Guild and getting a better chance of finding good loot, which I might be able to pass on to an heir specializing in something else.

I entered the city.

As an aside, this high resolution, multi-color frame-based UI seems decades ahead of its time, and makes me think of Windows 3.x games.

I didn’t want to explore the wilderness just yet, so I went around the city, mapping it out. The onscreen inclusion of compass direction and coordinates were quite welcome here.
I quickly found the magic shop, which I had nothing to sell to, and the weapon shop, which annoyingly does not list the items it has for sale. Instead, you may tell them how much you are willing to spend, and select a category of item, and they will recommend an item in your budget in the selected category, but won’t tell you how much it actually costs.

At this point, given my love for data, I just had to figure out what items are sold here, and what their actual costs are. In the process of doing this, I found that your food and water supplies dwindle on their own when you aren’t doing anything, and food isn’t cheap at this stage in the game, costing 100 gold for a month’s worth.

I tediously used binary search to gauge the prices of various items, and quickly realized two things – that the weapon shop sells every single item that is listed in the helpfile, and that the prices are not hardcoded, but calculated.

All that distinguishes “weapons” are the offense/defense values, and what part of your body you equip them on. Shields are all 1-handed and have offense of 0, and differ only by defense, so I determined the cost of each shield in the game, and from there was able to find that shields always cost exactly their defense value raised to the fourth power. With that portion of the formula discovered, and the exact values of a few other weapons determined, finding the rest of the formula was easy.
Cost = [Offense]^4 + [Defense]^4

That’s all there is to it, and the formula is consistent regardless of weapon type. The sword, in the screenshot above, would have a value of 81+1 = 82. The most powerful weapon, the trident, has an offense of 30, a defense of 10, and a cost of 810,000+10,000 = 820,000.

You haggle prices when buying, and the shopkeeper always starts at an amount way higher than what the item is worth, but quickly lowers if you counter-offer at exact cost.

I proceeded to map out the 6x6 block, and in it found a supply shop selling additional food at 100 gold per month’s supply. You only start with 150 gold, so clearly you’re not intended to waste a lot of a new character’s time in the city, where there are no encounters and no gold rewards. I did anyway.

Mapping out more blocks, I found that the city has multiple weapon shops, magic shops, supply stores, watering holes, and exits to the wilderness spread throughout the “room” blocks. Each block has at least one of these things, but no more than one of each type. Alternating the “room” blocks are “corridor” blocks which are repetitive in design and never contain any features.

I did try out some peacetime magic. None of the spells worked on my first casting, and drained about 10-20 vitality per attempt, but vitality restores on its own over time and there are no monsters here to kill me. Light reveals hidden doors, and a successful cast seems to last forever, so there’s no reason not to have it active. Passwall is sometimes needed to explore a sealed-off region of a room block. Precognition says it tells you when monsters have treasure; I did not try casting it or protection as there are no monsters in the city.

You can also pray, and request to create food/water or to purify tainted water. Water in the city is not free but is always clean, so there’s no point in casting it here. I tried praying for more water once I ran out, but it didn’t work, only draining my vitality, and with successive prayers all that I achieved was starving to death.

My next character explored more and found a guild, The Brotherhood. This wasn’t the guild I wished to join, but my stats weren’t high enough to join any guild anyway. As this was the only guild I could find, even though the city had many shops of every other kind, I presume that each guild only has one location in the entire city.

And the city is huge by Wizlike standards. It is eight blocks wide, seven blocks tall, up to 36 squares per “room” block, and up to 20 per “corridor” block, not counting the useless spaces in between the actual corridors. That’s an upper boundary of 1,568 squares! Compare with Wizardry’s mere 400 per level, and on top of that, it only has ten levels, while Moria has 302!

I eventually found the other three guilds as well as a total of four exits to the wilderness, and also found some things about how vitality works.

Vitality recharges two points every 3 to 6 seconds, roughly. It seems to recharge a bit faster when you’re actively playing the game (I expect that the game timer is TIPS-based rather than time-based), but this is negligible; the longest I’ve waited to recharge vitality completely is just over four minutes, and the fastest I’ve seen it recharge from near-depletion was two minutes and 50 seconds. I’d rather just do something else for four minutes than walk around in circles avoiding combat for three. The tricky thing is that the vitality display doesn’t update all the time; if you drain your vitality to, say, 8, and then idle to recharge it, you might not see it increase at all until it hits 100.

One ingame month passes every eight minutes, plus a random number of seconds. If you lose your connection, time will pass faster than this, and if you don’t hurry to re-log in, you may return to find that your character starved to death while you were away.

Peaceful spells all cost the same. At 5 wizardry points, casting spells costs 14 vitality. At 7 wizardry, they cost 13. At 10 wizardry, they cost 11. This isn’t enough data to extrapolate the spell cost formula, but it’s a start.

Prayers are random in their vitality cost. I experimented with a 5 piety character and prayed for food 50 times, measuring the vitality cost each time. The cost ranged from 1 to 49, with a mean of 28 and a standard deviation of about 15. The prayer did not work even once. I tried again with a 10 piety character, and the cost still ranged from 1 to 49, but the mean was lower, about 25, and the standard deviation about 14.15. It worked exactly once.

Here’s my map of the city. It’s probably not perfect, but I don’t expect that there is anything of interest here that I did not map.


  1. Completely off-topic to this post, but you mentioned in the "Intermission: 1980/1981" comment section that people were free to make suggestions... I was testing out Atari 8-bit emulation here and gave the game Kingdom a try, the Atari 8-bit port of the 70s computer game Hammurabi, which made me wonder if Hammurabi was on your list somewhere. I assume it's on there as a distant relative to something-or-other considering it's the great grandfather of every computer strategy game out there, but if it's not, I strongly suggest covering it given how influential it was.

    1. What games is Hammurabi known to have influenced?

      The next strategy game on the whaling log is Galaxy for the Apple II, and there are a number of older strategy games listed as ancestors. Is Hammurabi a known influence on it or any of them?

      Way farther down the line, there's M.U.L.E., which seems like it has to have been influenced by Hammurabi, and yet I don't know if this was ever confirmed. If you can find proof that it influenced M.U.L.E., then I'm doing it for sure, and if you can't, there's a pretty good chance I'm doing it anyway.

    2. Hammurabi's gameplay involves acting as the agriculture minister of a Sumerian city state, who has to make yearly allocations of how much land to buy/sell from/to neighbouring states, how much grain to distribute to the citizens, and how much grain to plant. It's a pure resource management game, and while I'm not familiar with Galaxy, it seems like it's a war game, so there's probably not that much influence there. I'm not familiar enough with those games to know how much of a role resource management plays in them. The game I felt it resembled the most was the fife micromanaging part of the original Nobunaga's Ambition, but I was never that much of a strategy gamer.

      Wikipedia says it influenced M.U.L.E. though, and lists a couple other games you might want to take a look at, like Santa Paravia, which took the Hammurabi gameplay and added a city planning element to it.

  2. Hi Ahab. I would like to ask you two questions.

    1. You played Moria in color mode, but did other PLATO games have color mode as well? Is the color mode only a feature of the emulator, or is it an authentic mode that existed in 1975?

    2. Regarding the Moria-Oubliette-Wizardry line, do you think Avatar had any role in there between Oubliette and Wizardry?

    1. Sure thing.

      1. Moria is the only PLATO game I've played that supports color, but I haven't played all of them. I expect color is an authentic mode, but perhaps not as early as 1975. Moria was developed continuously from 1975 to 1984, and color could have been added any time during that frame. Color only works in pTerm v6, which apparently simulates a later CRT-style terminal rather than an original PLATO V one like previous versions do. This tells me that color graphics must send some kind of data that the IST-III terminals can understand but that the orange plasma PLATO terminals will discard. Either that or the IST-III terminals send some kind of handshake that signals they can receive color graphics data.

      2. I haven't played Avatar, and I haven't read anything about its gameplay except for CRPG Addict's posts. But I don't think so.

    2. Hi Ahab. (I am posting an identical comment on CRPG Addict and CRPG Adventure)

      This is an interview with Woodhead. Unfortunately, it is in Japanese. I can translate it if you like.

      This is the first time I see in any documentation where Woodhead explicitly names Moria and Oubliette as an influence to Wizardry. On top of that, he also mentions Avatar as an influence as well.

      On the other hand, he mentions that it is a coincidence that a spell name (probably DUMAPIC) in Wizardry is identical to Oubliette's.

    3. I would like that very much!

    4. Sorry i took a while Ahab. Here it is. I did not translate the first half of the interview which was about what Woodhead does now and his anime companies.

    5. 4G: I would like to ask questions regarding the Wizardry series. Andrew Greenberg wrote the prototype of Wizardry in BASIC, while he was attending Cornell University. You rewrote that in pascal, and that became the basis of Wizardry, is that correct?

      WH: That's right.

      4G: I have heard that the D&D play-group at Cornell named WARG (Wizardry Advanced Research Group) contributed in creating the scenario for Wizardry, but were you part of this group as well?

      WH: No, I was a D&D enthusiast, but I was not part of that group. They were Andy's griends. I actually owned the 1974 original version of D&D. Unfortunately, I don't have it now anymore.

      4G: Did the title "Wizardry" actually come from their group name?

      WH: I am not really sure. I have always thought that it was something Andy came up with, but perhaps it did come from their group name.

      4G: In a past interview, you mentioned that Wizardry was created under the influence of D&D, PLATO games, and various subcultures of the time.

      WH: Exactly.

      4G: Could you name some specific titles that had an influence?

      WH: Among the PLATO games, I could certainly say that it was influenced by Moria, Oubliette, and Avatar.

      4G: In Oubliette, there is a spell that has the same name as one of the spell in Wizardry, but has a different effect. Was this intentional?

      WH: That never has crossed my mind. I guess it was a coincidence.

      4G: How about Murasama Blade and Shuriken? Oubliette had classes such as Ninja and Samurai, but a Japanese weapon and armor seemed like it was first done by Wizardry.

      WH: That was an influence from a novel called "Shogun" by James Clavell. Murasama Blade and Shuriken appears in it.

      4G: Then how about the ARABIC DIARY (TALES OF MADNESS) that appeared in Wizardry 4? In the console versions, it was renamed as "necronomicon" but is it actually "necronomicon"?

      WH: Yes, it is. Roe Adams wrote 95% of the scenario for Wiz4, and ARABIC DIARY was his idea as well. I did know what "necronomicon" was since I also read H.P. Lovecraft's work.

      4G: I understand that the influence of D&D was big, but how about J.R.R. Tolkien? In 1977, NBC Television aired the anime "Journey of the Hobbit". Studio Ghibli's former company called Topcraft made it.

      WH: I do not know about that anime. I had read Tolkien's novels of course, but the direct influence is from D&D.

    6. 4G: I have always thought that the spell names in Wizardry must have been influenced by the fictional language in Tolkien's work.

      WH: That's not really the case. Those spell names are fake-Welsh. I don't quite remember why we decided to go with fake-Welsh.

      4G: I also have been wondering where the monster name "Maelfic" came from. In the NES version, the monster graphic looked like it was modeled after Pazuzu.

      WH: The Enlgish word "malefic" is the origin. It is like evil materialized. Like the witch Maleficent from the Sleeping Beauty.

      4G: in the late 1980s, I remember reading in a computer magazine that there was a project that aimed to allow data conversions of player characters between the Wizardry series and some of the RPGs published by BPS such as Black Onykis and Fire Crystal. Do you know anything about that?

      WH: That was probably when I was involved in the development of the Mac Version of Wizardry . . . I do remember Henk Rogers from BPS, and I vaguely remember about a project like that . . . but I cannot remember anything specific.

      4G: I see, excuse me for asking so many questions at once.

      WH: Not at all. You see, Wizardry is like a piece of a chain. Like any other games, Wizardry was created under the influence of pre-existing games and other cultures such as movies. And from there, Wizardry also came influence later works. It is like that, like a piece of a chain.

      4G: I absolutely agree. Wizardry grew to be a big "chain" especially in Japan. Japanese games and animes, and even light-novels of today are under the influence of Wizardry.

      WH: I am honored. But a lot of it was luck. And a big thanks to ForTune and the game studios that was responsbile for localizing the Japanese versions. And the staff at ASCII too. I still think that NES version is the most perfected version of Wizardry. They did not use my crudely drawn pictures!

      4G: When I replay the AppleII version today, I could really see that Wizardry was given birth to under these various influences from its forerunners. The race and class system, monster descriptions, screen layout, and even from trivial text messages. But what would be the most original thing that you accomplished through Wizardry?

      WH: I think . . . it's the scenario. CRPGS at that time still did not have goals or an endgame. By implementing the concept of a scenario with puzzle-solving elements, Wizardry became unique from its predecessors. As you know, Wiz4 is the one that really took that concept to a different level.

      4G: Did you come up with the idea of implementing a scenario while you were trying to merge the elements of an online game "Oubliette" and TRGP D&D within the AppleII?

      WH: Yes, my main focus was on how to create and present all of that in that tiny box of macine. Now that we are talking about it, I have to thank the Japanese staffs because they were the one who developed and prepared the environment for Pascal, which let me use PC-9801 as a "fast AppleII" while we developed Wiz4.

    7. Very interesting stuff. Thank you so much!

  3. I found a very interesting piece of information.\

    It turns out that Moria initially had a top-down view instead of the first-person view!! As far as I am concerned, it could be a little bit misleading to call Moria (that we can play today on PLATO) a 1975 game. The wireframe and first-person view got implemented around 1977, around the same time when Oubliette was released.

    In John Daleske's website, he mentions about a game "Dungeon" that he wrote, but was never completed. He says it is a precursor to Moria with a first person view.

    Moria's author, in his interview, mentions that he had knowledge of "dnd", but wondered why the dnd authors were having continuous bug problems, which motivated him to write his own program "Moria".

    I am thinking now that he actually may be talking about Dungeon by Daleske, not dnd.

    Rutherford of pedit5 also mentions in his letter to Barton, about how he was aware about the program "dnd" was in development, but never seem to get properly uploaded, so he wrote pedit5.

    It really doesn't make any sense if he was really talking about dnd, because dnd authors says the SAME THING about pedit5 (how it got deleted multiple times). Could Rutherford be talking about "Dungeon" by Daleske as well??

    I don't have any concrete proofs, but this seems to be the most convincing interpretation as of now.

    1. That's pretty interesting, and I wish we could play this top-down Moria version. I agree that it's troublesome to call it a 1975 game. We tend to fit games into a neat little timeline, and it works well enough with commercial games because there's a discrete release that we can pinpoint, sometimes to the very day. Atari's Combat is a moment frozen in time, unchanged from its first release on September 11 1977. And we apply this convention to non-commercial computer games, but it gets messy. The Moria we can play now represents years of development from 1975 to 1984, but to call it a 1984 game would also be misleading. And now that games are mainly distributed online, we have this problem of chronology all over again. Fortnite, for instance, isn't the same game now as it was in 2017, or even a week ago.

  4. Ahab, would be happy to shed some light on the color aspect of the game. The original PLATO system never had color. It was added much later, and even then it was implemented using commands that could be ignored by the predecessor monochrome systems. My mother worked for Control Data Corporation for a long time, and after that worked for a company that bought out the old mainframe when the company started dissolving. I worked for that company (Imsatt/University Online) around 1994/95ish when they were trying to spruce up all of the already created content on the server to publish and provide online. To jazz things up they were changing the outdated names of keys (PLATO had physical keys labeled HELP, LAB, DATA, NEXT for example) and adding in color. That was my only job while I worked there as a summer intern...changing names of keys on screen, and adding color. 0moria was mine. I added all of the color to it. :-)

    1. Correction, just looked at the code, and I put in the date as February of '93., I was still in high school. :-D


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