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.
- 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.