Monday, July 26, 2021

Wizardry: Level Five

I finally reached my grinding goal of getting all my characters to Level 13.  While it took me a few weeks in real-world terms, it was only a few hours of game time (although keep in mind that I did it with the emulator speed cranked up).  Wizardry's not a long game, and reaching high levels can be done pretty quickly, but as I've said before my time has been limited, and I haven't been all that excited to spend it on playing ancient CRPGs.

A little bit before getting my characters to Level 13, I decided to have a couple of my characters change class.  The first change I made was to have my thief Flanker change into a mage.  I would have preferred a change to cleric, but I was restricted by alignment.  I got Flanker to around level 8 as a mage before having second thoughts about the whole thing.  What I'm unsure about is whether he even keeps his thief skills after changing class.  He certainly didn't keep his Agility or Luck scores, and I gather those are important when disarming chests.  So I dropped him for now, and swapped Penitent Pat back in.  I've been disarming traps with my non-thief characters, which has been reasonably effective, and I much prefer the balance of having two priests in the party.

The other change I made was to convert Mean Joe from fighter to samurai.  This one was a disaster.  Joe went from a killing machine to one of the most useless members of the party.  I'm still keeping him in the front line, because he has loads of hit points, but his melee damage output isn't even close to what he was dishing out before.  At first I thought this was because he lost his multiple attacks, but I've levelled him up to the point where he's gotten those back.  The real problem here is that characters get their ability scores reset when they change class, and those new totals are really low.  Mean Joe's Strength of 18 was a big asset, and it's not one that he's ever going to get back.  Changing to Samurai got him some mage spells, but the trade-off hasn't been worth it so far.

So for the moment I'm steering clear of the class-changing system.  I've probably just used it badly, but it feels to me as though characters lose almost everything by going back to level 1 and having their stats reset.  I'll stick with Mean Joe, and hope I find a weapon or something that can bring him back up to par.  As for the rest, I'm going to keep my fighter, two priests and two mages.  Hopefully that'll be good enough.  I was considering turning my priest Pious Pete into a lord (for better melee capabilities), both of my mages into priests, and Penitent Pat into a mage, but now I'm not so sure.  I'm hesitant to screw things up after what happened to Mean Joe.  ("Look how they massacred my boy" I say, having just watched The Godfather for the first time ever.)

I explored dungeon level 5 using the elevator that I'd previously unlocked on level 4.  My first foray was somewhat disastrous: I encountered a group of Level 7 Mages, and underestimated the amount of spell power I needed to unload on them.  (I think I typed MAHALITO instead of LAHALITO, and ended up casting the weakest of the game's mass damage spells. It's an easy mistake to make.)  The Mages cast their own mass damage spells on me in return, and both of my mages were killed.  I had my priests finish them off with LORTO (a mass damage spell that slices the enemy with spinning blades), and quickly high-tailed it back to the castle to resurrect Merlin and Misto at the temple.  (I could have had my priests do it with a DI or KADORTO spell, but I was wary of the manual's warning that DI isn't as effective or safe as using the temple. Besides, I have plenty of gold.)

Taking stock of my casualties between rounds.

Dungeon level 5 used the entire 20 x 20 grid, unlike level 4, but it didn't have any special encounters at all.  The only noteworthy area was a large central room where spellcasting didn't work.  I was lucky enough to get through that area with only a couple of easy random encounters; I suspect that meeting the wrong enemies in that place could go very badly.  I have no idea if anti-magic zones affect the monsters as well as the party, but I'm not anxious to find out.

There are a bunch of one-way doors throughout the level, one spinner, and a corridor with a darkness zone.  Overall, I'm surprised at how little Wizardry has put these tricks to use.  I'm accustomed to the Bard's Tale series, which will drop spinners and darkness zones all over the place.  Wizardry has been sparing with them, and so far its levels have been pretty simple to map.

Wizardry Level 5.  The light blue area is an anti-magic zone.

In terms of encounters, I've been blowing through most of them with LAHALITO, LORTO and MADALTO (a highly damaging frost spell).  One of my mages got TILTOWAIT upon reaching 13th level; this spell does 10-100 damage to every monster in the combat, which at this point sounds to me like pressing the "automatic win" button.  I haven't used it yet, and I'm not even sure why not.  I think I've been saving it for a really hairy encounter, but there's no reason not to drop it on some unsuspecting kobolds on my way out of the dungeon.

I did have one scary moment, when I was surprised by a group of 7th Level Mages (those guys again).  There was nothing I could do except watch as my characters got blasted over and over.  Penitent Pat and Misto got killed, and Merlin was left with only 2 hit points.  I annihilated them with LORTO and MADALTO in the next round, but I'm pretty sure the only reason I survived is that a couple of the Mages had attacked rather than cast spells.

After that hair-raising encounter I decided to use MALOR (teleport) to escape the dungeon as quickly as possible.  I'd been reluctant to use MALOR thus far, instead opting to take the elevator back to the surface: I'm well aware that giving MALOR the wrong coordinates can kill your entire party if you land in solid stone.  I'd been mapping carefully though, and knew exactly where I was, so I was able to land directly on the level 1 stairs to the castle.  Once again, all of my character were resurrected safely.

Setting my coordinates for a MALOR teleport.

Aside from that, my only other setback came at the hands of an ANTI-MAGE trap.  I'd set one of these off much earlier in the game, and it had paralyzed both of my mages.  I took the risk, and this time one of my mages was turned to stone.  The other was paralyzed, as was Mean Joe; it turns out that this trap affects anyone who can cast mage spells, not just those of the mage class (I guess that's a downside of class-changing to give everyone spellcasting, you could get wiped out by a single trap).  I was able to use the MADI spell (which cures all conditions and restores the target to full hit points) to fix everyone, but that trap was a lot nastier than I was expecting.


It's possible my next post might cover multiple dungeon levels, as I'm done with grinding for the moment (and will be done for good unless I change my mind about class changing).  Of course this all assumes that I don't suffer some kind of major setback, but so far so good.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Wizardry: Level Four

Once again I got bored with grinding, and decided to take my chances by descending to the 4th dungeon level.  I'd already been down there briefly, having taken the elevator and found two signs warning me to keep out.  This time I took the stairs, with a healthy amount of trepidation.  (This is the major appeal of playing games where you can't just reload a save: the consequences of every action are irreversible, so there are genuine nerves every time a new action is taken.)

This time I took the stairs down from level 3 to level 4.  I was prepared for a lengthy mapping session, but this level didn't take long to explore at all: whereas the previous levels had used most of their 20 x 20 grid, level 4 had lots of unused space.  The stairs down led to a long east-west tunnel.  Exploring west led to a dead end, and an area with a loop of doorways.  Exploring east led to another loop of doorways, where I found the stairs down to level 5.  One of the doors leading to the stairs had some suspicious disk access after I passed through it; I checked a walkthrough map afterwards, and discovered that I wouldn't have been able to get through without the Bear Statue that I'd found on level 2.

The very sparse map of level 4

Having explored the areas accessible via the stairs, I figured that the most interesting parts of the level must be accessed via the elevator.   (On levels 2 and 3, the areas accessible by elevator were blocked from the rest of the dungeon, and had nothing interesting to find.)  I tried the north passage first, past a sign reading "Testing Grounds Control Centre", mostly because that area of the map was more open than the south passsage.  (As it turned out, I wouldn't have been able to explore south yet anyway.)

As soon as I stepped past the sign, an alarm sounded, and on my next move I was attacked by 7 3rd Level Ninjas.  I made short work of them with spells, and continued exploring.  There were two ways forward: one past a sign reading "Treasure Repository", and the other past a sign reading "Monster Allocation Center".  The "Treasure Repository" door led into a room where I was attacked by a group of Werebears.  I suspect that these enemies had more hit points than anything else I'd faced so far, but with the amount of offensive magic I had by this point I was able to blow them away with ease.

I also fought a Dragon after going through the alarm square.
It died quick.

Exploring through the "Monster Allocation Center" door, I was immediately attacked by what I suspect is a unique encounter: two Lvl 7 Fighters, two High Priests, two Lvl 7 Mages, and a High Ninja.  Again, I blasted the hell out of these guys.  Now that my priests can cast LORTO (a wall of blades that deals 6-36 damage) and add their offensive power to that of my mages, I'm able to wipe out everything I encounter almost immediately.

The toughest fight yet, I guess.

Past this room I entered a smaller room that was described as containing a desk covered in wizardly paraphernalia: scrying glasses, amulets of summoning, and other items all conveniently destroyed.  Just as I entered a panel in the east wall was closing, and I was told that nothing I could do was able to open it.  Curious as to who I'd just disturbed, I continued forward.

The next room had some answers, as I got the following lengthy message:

As the party enters the room, the door slams shut, glows bright orange, and disappears. A door appears to the right. A voice from no apparent direction can be heard. It says: "Congratulations, my loyal and worthy subjects. Today you have served me well and truly proven yourself worthy of the quest you are now to undertake. Several years ago, an amulet was stolen from the treasury by an evil wizard who is purported to be in the dungeon immediately below where you now stand. This amulet has powers which we are now in dire need of. It is your quest to find this amulet and retrieve it from this wizard. In recognition of your great deed today, I will give you a blue ribbon, which may be used to access the level transporter on this floor. Without it, the party would be unable to enter the room in which it lies. 
Go now, and god speed in your quest!"

So that's my quest: an evil wizard  has stolen the amulet of King Trebor, and I have to get it back.  Am I to understand that the first four dungeon levels are under Trebor's control?  And that I've just won the right to enter the levels below, controlled by this evil wizard?  I guess it makes sense of the Proving Grounds name, although that would make Trebor the titular Mad Overlord, and potentially not someone for whom I should be retrieving magic amulets.  (The evil wizard Werdna isn't named here, and I don't think he was referenced in the manual either.  He was named on a "briefing" that apparently was included as a slip of paper with the game, but I'm curious to see when he first gets a name in the game itself.)

With the Blue Ribbon in my possession I was able to get through the door south of the elevator.  This revealed another elevator, with buttons marked A through F.  In any other game I'd mash that F button and try to take on Werdna right away, secure in the ability to reboot a save, but that's not an option here.  As I've been doing so far, I'm taking this slowly and cautiously.

As I noted above, my current spell power is such that I've been blowing through the various monsters I've encountered.  I've probably been over-cautious with the amount of grinding I've done, but as I noted above, choices in this game have consequences, and I don't relish starting over.  I won't make a list of the monsters I've fought, because I've been killing them too quickly, so I have no idea what their  special abilities are.  I did get a little nervous when confronted by some Gas Dragons, but a MADALTO spell (a cold blast dealing 8-64 damage) put them away very quickly.  My biggest setback came when I encountered a group of Shades, one of which drained my fighter Roland from level 12 down to level 11.  That's a lot of experience to make up, but aside from the loss of a few hit points it didn't affect his combat ability in the slightest.

(Level drain comes directly from Dungeons & Dragons, where certain undead monsters will drain your character of an experience level with a melee hit.  It's somewhat controversial these days: a lot of players hate it, and a lot of DMs refrain from using it.  I like it as a tool for instilling genuine fear and hesitation in players, but it only works in certain styles of game; modern D&D kind of relies on the PCs all being of roughly the same level, so I can see why level drain gets left out.  Plus it's super-deflating to have months of work go down the drain due to a single bad combat.  But it fits well in multi-level dungeon crawls where the PCs control the danger level by choosing which dungeon level to explore, and that's the type of play that Wizardry is emulating.)

Roland after having been level drained.

Reading back over my posts, I noticed that I've avoided writing about whether I'm enjoying the game or not.  That hasn't been deliberate, but there are reasons for it: multiple lockdowns, my entire family life being turned upside down, moving house, and so on.  I haven't been in a great headspace for this kind of game, and as such playing Wizardry has felt like a chore.  I can recognise the quality behind it; it's absolutely one of the most well-crafted games of its era, and it's likely that under different circumstances  I'd be loving it.  At the moment, the prospect of another session doesn't really excite me, but I'll keep plugging away.  I just hope that the first time my party gets wiped out won't discourage me from playing completely.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Wizardry: Grinding Interlude

I mentioned in my last post that I haven't had much time for gaming, and that has held true for this week as well.  I only managed a couple of grinding sessions, and a very small amount of exploration, but in the interests of keeping a regular posting schedule I'll make a quick update.

Most of my characters are sitting on level 12, just one level shy of my grinding goal.  I did this by cranking up the emulator speed and repeatedly fighting Murphy's Ghosts on the first dungeon level, with AEW Dynamite playing in the background.  Once my spellcasters hit level 13 my they'll have learned the most powerful spells in the game, and that seems to me like a good time to change class.  After all, there's very little point to levelling up as a mage or priest once there are no new spells to learn.  My characters all need roughly 160,000 experience points to reach the next level, so I'm at the point where it's diminishing returns for pretty much all of them.

While I was grinding I added my thief Flanker back into the party.  He was already 5th level, and for whatever reason I prefer the idea of changing his class to a spellcaster more than changing one of my spellcasters to a thief.  My current plan is to change Flanker and my priest Pious Pete into mages, and change my mages Misto and Merlin into priests.

As for my fighters, Mean Joe and Roland, I'll probably change their classes too; the experience required to level up is getting prohibitively high.  I'd like to change one into a Samurai and the other into a Lord, but I stuffed up during character creation and made them both Neutral in alignment.  That precludes them from becoming Lords, so I guess I'm going to have two Samurai.

Aside from grinding, the only thing I did was make a quick foray into the 4th dungeon level by way of the elevator (with four buttons marked A-D).  It led to an area with long passages north and south, both blocked by doors with signs.  The south door's sign said that it was a private elevator, for authorized users only.  The north door was the "Testing Grounds Control Center", and a warning said that it was strictly off-limits.  I decided not to open either, as I expect they both hold either a trap or a difficult battle.  Once I get my characters to 13th level and earn some experience in their new classes it will be time to tackle dungeon level 4.

Nobody finishes RPGs by obeying "Keep Out" signs.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Wizardry: Level Three

I haven't had a lot of time to devote to playing Wizardry this week, unfortunately.  I now have a work commute that's two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, and my laptop only works now when it's plugged in.  This doesn't leave me with a lot of free time, so most of what I'm covering in this post happened on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

I did manage to do an hour or two of grinding during the week, repeatedly fighting Murphy's Ghosts while I watched episodes of Seinfeld in the background.  This grinding got most of my characters to level 10, quite a bit short of my level 13 target.  My plan was to get my spellcasters to level 13 before switching classes (mages to priests and priests to mages) but that's going to take quite some time.

While I'm on the subject of levelling up, I want to vent about one of the most annoying aspects of the game: healing.  More specifically, it really bugs me that characters get an increase to their maximum hit points when levelling up, but they don't get the same increase to their current hit points.  To give an example, if Mean Joe's maximum hit points go from 75 to 88 hit points when gaining a level, his current hit points will stay at 75.  So every time I level it's necessary to spend time healing everyone, and it's very irritating.

It mightn't be so bad if the healing process weren't so laborious.  Characters can stay at the Adventurer's Inn, where their hit points gradually increase as gold decreases, but I don't like spending money when I don't need to.  Besides, you can only do this with one character at a time.  Instead I enter the dungeon and cast my full complement of healing spells, which can sometimes take multiple trips.  It's hard to criticise a game this old for its interface issues, especially when it's pretty much inventing that interface, but it does get tiresome after a while.

I considered continuing to grind on Murphy's Ghosts, but I was determined to post on the blog over the weekend, and I wanted that post to have some actual content.  So last night I determined to head down to dungeon level 3, hoping that I hadn't just sent my entire party to die.

Level 3 was a series of straight corridors and rectangular rooms, with very little to discover aside from monsters.  Some of the corridor intersections had pits, which did enough damage to almost kill my mages.  I don't think there's a way to avoid them, but it's possible there's a spell I'm missing.  Other intersections featured spinners, which are an ubiquitous trap for this genre.  Basically, when you step on a square with a spinner, it turns you around in a random direction.  This dungeon is designed so that it's impossible to tell which way you're facing just from the layout.  Each time I hit a spinner I had to move one square away, make camp, and cast DUMAPIC to get my bearings.  Something else that annoys me about the interface is that you can only cast non-combat spells while in camp.  Spinners are generally a minor annoyance, but the interface for this game magnifies that annoyance significantly.

Also found at the intersections are messages saying "turn around", "turn left" or "turn right".  I'm not sure if these messages mean anything, or if they're just there to confuse the player.  I tried following them, but the directions never led anywhere of interest (and more often than not they pointed me towards a pit).

Messages like this are found throughout the third dungeon level.

In the centre of the level, through a one-way door, I found a room with buttons marked A through D.  I'd encountered similar rooms on levels 1 and 2, which had ended up being a sort of elevator or teleporter (I'm not sure which).  These buttons worked the same, and connected to the matching rooms on levels 1 and 2.  The only button I haven't tried now is D, which I assume goes down to level 4.  I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet.

Combat on this level wasn't anywhere near as deadly as I'd feared.  The monsters I've fought are as follows:

  • Level 5 Mages: This is a pretty big leap, considering that I'd only just been fighting Level 1 Mages on the previous dungeon level.  These guys cast MAHALITO, which is a danger to my weaker party members, but I can usually kill them before they fire off more than one.
  • Capybaras: A rodent-like creature with a poisonous bite.  I can cast cure poison (LATUMOFIS) now, so poison doesn't send me scurrying back to the castle like it once did.
  • Rotting Corpses: Undead that I've been able to kill without much trouble.  If they have a special attack, I don't know about it.
  • Vorpal Bunnies: I'd fought some of these on level 2, and they're found in greater numbers on level 3.  I haven't been hit by one yet, and more often than not they run away from my party.
  • Coyotes: Like Vorpal Bunnies, this monster will run away most of the time.
  • Ninjas: I've fought several groups of ninjas, but they haven't done much to me beyond casting sleep spells.
  • Dragon Flies: Flies with a breath weapon that damages everyone in the party.

Taking breath weapon damage from a Dragon Fly.

I feel like my grinding paid off here, because I've been able to beat the monsters on level 3 with little trouble.  I've been pretty generous with spells, firing off LAHALITOs with abandon, and those are generally enough to wipe out a group of monsters.  I've purchased the best armor I can (+1 shields, +1 plate mail), and combined with the MAPORFIC spell my AC is good enough that I rarely get hit.  I keep expecting to bump into monsters and get completely wiped out, but so far it hasn't happened.  I've been cautious, and that caution has paid off.

My only misgiving is that I find myself leaving a lot of treasure chests behind.  I don't have a thief, so I'm not confident to have my characters disarm traps.  I use CALFO to identify the traps whenever I find a chest, and open those that are safe.  That was fine on levels 1 and 2, but on level 3 pretty much every chest has been trapped.  Once I risked opening a chest with an ANTI-MAGE trap, figuring that if I had a fighter open it I'd be fine.  It paralyzed both of my mages, and I had to rush back to the castle and pay for them to be restored at the temple.

You'd think there'd be a spell to cure paralysis, but I
couldn't find it in the manual.

I need a thief in the party, but I really don't want to change my current party makeup.  While finishing up this post, an obvious solution occurred to me: have one of my characters change class to thief.  Perhaps when one of my mages hits level 13 I'll give him some levels of thief before switching to priest.  I'm still a little wary of the class-changing in Wizardry, because I have no idea how it works.  I'm pretty sure I keep the spellcasting from earlier classes, but I'm not sure about other abilities, or how it affects hit points, or any number of other factors.  I don't want to ruin one of my guys with an ill-considered change.

Dungeon level 3

I've found the stairs down to level 4, so I need to decide what my next move is.  I think I'll probably tackle it much like I did with level 3: grinding when I find time during the week, and exploring the new level on the weekend.  It worked well for me with level 3, and I'm not about to change a winning formula.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Wizardry: Level Two

At the end of my last post I had just finished exploring the first dungeon level, and I was already seeing some inadequacies in the makeup of my party.  The biggest problem I found was a lack of healing power: with only one priest, there just aren't enough DIOS spells to go around.  So I determined to drop one of my party members and create another priest.

The obvious character to drop was my thief, Flanker.  All he's done so far is sit in the back ranks and disarm the occasional chest.  It barely seems worth it, as the rewards for opening a chest are about the same as those for encounters without a chest.  I'm content to use the CALFO spell to scan chests, and only open the ones that don't have traps.  I'll be leaving treasure behind, but I feel like the benefits of having a second priest far outweigh the drawbacks of losing my thief.

While I was creating a priest (who I called Penitent Pat, to go along with my current priest Pious Pete), I discovered that raising IQ along with Piety qualifies a character to become a bishop.  So I created another new character, a bishop named Harold (that's one for the Australian soap fans).  Bishops can cast priest and mage spells, and also have the ability to identify magic items.  The latter ability sounded pretty handy to me, so I was happy to have him replace one of my mages for a while.  With Flanker replaced by Penitent Pat, and Misto replaced by Harold, I went back into the dungeon to do some grinding.

To give my grinding some purpose, I went on what I call a headbutting mission.  The first dungeon level has a lot of unused space, so I went around bumping into every wall that might have a secret door.  I found a new one, but it just led to a 1x2 square room with nothing special inside.  Of much more value was the experience I earned, enough to raise Penitent Pat and Harold by a couple of levels.

I considered grinding some more, but I get impatient with that sort of thing when there is legitimate exploration to be done.  I had two options ahead of me: the stairs down to level 2, or the alcove with four buttons marked A through D.  I decided to check out the buttons.

My instinct here was that the buttons would possibly open up sections of the first dungeon level, or maybe transport me to a different dungeon level.  My second thought was the correct one.  When I pressed button A, nothing happened, but pressing button B took me to a whole new area.  I immediately camped and cast DUMAPIC to get my bearings: I was on the second dungeon level, 10 squares east and 8 squares north of the stairs to the castle.

The area I had been teleported to consisted of four small rooms, with no way to get to the rest of the level.  While I was poking around in here, I had an encounter with two 1st Level Priests.  They died pretty easily, but not before hitting one of my characters with a damaging spell (BADIOS, I assume).  One of the squares in this area had four buttons, also marked A through D.  I was pretty keen to escape before encountering any other monsters, and I had no other way out, so I pressed the A button.  This teleported me back to the centre of dungeon level 1, where I was able to make my escape.

At this point I decided that I would leave the buttons alone.  My assumption is that buttons C and D will teleport me to dungeon levels 3 and 4, and I doubt that I'm ready for even a short stay on those levels.  My current plan is to fully explore these levels before I test out the buttons; it seems safest to explore them in a situation where I know the way back to the castle.

I have to say I was feeling pretty good about my progress at this point; none of my characters had died in ages, and every trip I made into the dungeon was filling out my map and earning levels for my characters.  As much as I was nervous about going down to level 2, I decided to risk it; I'm always wary about being wiped out in this game, but the lure of mapping and exploring will usually win out over grinding for experience.  I'll go grind when I get definite proof that I'm in over my head.  I took Harold out of the party, and brought Misto back in; I wanted my full firepower for the next dungeon level.

My first foray into the second dungeon level took me to a spiralling tunnel in the north-east section of the map.  At the centre of the spiral I found the stairs down to dungeon level 3, which I'm definitely not taking yet.  Along the way I encountered some Zombies (initially identified as Weird Humanoids).  Most of them were easily dispelled by Pious Pete, with the rest being mopped up by my fighters.

Of much greater interest was the encounter I had with three groups of 6 Creeping Coins.  The graphic for these monsters was a pile of treasure, and though they weren't that strong in melee they had all sorts of special abilities: sleep spells, a breath weapon, and a spell that reduces my Armor Class.  None of these presented much of a risk (although my mages did take some minor damage).  I was able to take them out with a barrage of MAHALITO spells (fireballs), and the experience rewards were enormous.  Everyone gained a level when I got back to the castle, with Penitent Pat advancing multiple times.

Creeping Coins, aka Bags of Experience

I went back to level 2, and explored another door to the north.  There was some suspicious loading when I went through the door, but nothing happened.  (I suspected that maybe this something to do with the keys I'd found on level 1, and I was right.  When I went back without the Silver Key in my possession, the party were driven back by a silver fog and visions of terrible demons.)  In this area I found a statue of a bear, with a sign saying "I've got a million of 'em."  Searching the statue I found a smaller Bear Statue I could take with me.

(I'm not sure what's going on with that sign.  It could be a reference to the fact that you can search the area multiple times and you'll keep finding Bear Statues.)

Finding a mysterious bear statue.

On my third foray I explored to the south, which had another door with some suspicious loading.  (Again, I returned later and discovered that without the Bronze Key from level 1, a bronze-coloured smoke will compel the party to leave the way they came in.)  In this area I found a statue of a frog, whose behaviour was suspiciously like that of a certain Muppet.  Searching the area revealed a Frog Statuette.  (With this statue being Kermit, it seems probable that the bear is intended to be Fozzie, and the "I've got a million of 'em" could refer to his joke-telling.  Either way, as much as I love the Muppets I could do without them intruding into fantasy RPGs.)

It's not easy being annoyed at the presence of Muppets.

My fourth foray into the dungeon took me exploring west, where I found a pair of doors with yet more suspicious loading.  (I needed the bear and frog statues to get past these.)  These doors led into the north-western area of the dungeon, which was shrouded in darkness.  After much bumping around in the dark, I found a small room with a statue of a weird creature with the body of a chicken and the head of a cat.  I searched this area, expecting to have a fight on my hands, but instead I found a Gold Key.  My inventory was rapidly filling with keys and statues for various doors, but at this point it wasn't a huge problem.  Eventually I'll probably transfer them to a character back at the castle, but for now my mages have plenty of room to carry them.

I don't think there are any chicken-bodied,
cat-headed Muppets...

Exploring further west, I discovered that the map wraps around to the other side.  There was nothing to find in this area, aside from a series of squares with the following written on placards:

A dungeon's dark...
When it's not lit...
Watch out, or you'll...

"Be in deep shit."

The fourth line of this rhyme isn't revealed, but I can assume it should be Fall in a pit, because that's exactly what happened to me on the next square.  Penitent Pat was killed, but nobody else took any damage.  I had to lug Pat's corpse back to the castle and get him raised at the temple, costing 2500 gold.  That's where I left off, with my party ready to take on the third dungeon level.

My map of dungeon level two

The second dungeon level had proved to not be all that difficult.  I hadn't done any grinding in particular; all the experience I'd earned was from exploring dungeon level 1, and I was well capable of annihilating the monsters that level 2 threw at me.  These are the monsters I can remember fighting:

  • Creeping Coins: I mentioned these guys above.  They have lots of ineffectual special abilities, and they always attack in huge groups.  My eyes light up when I get attacked by them, because I know the experience reward is going to be huge.
  • Zombies: Again, I've mentioned these.  I'm not sure that I've been hit by one, so I don't know if they have any kind of special attack or not.  With two priests, I can dispel most of them before they attack.
  • Gas Clouds: I was a little concerned about fighting them at first, because I thought they might explode when hit, like a D&D Gas Spore.  They have some magical attacks, but nothing I've been affected by, so these guys are an easy kill.
  • 1st Level Priests: Aside from casting BADIOS, they pose very little threat.
  • Creeping Cruds: Another slime enemy like the Bubbly Slime. I assume they have more hit points and deal more damage, but I've been able to kill them all before they could cause me any trouble.
  • Vorpal Bunnies: I had one encounter with a group of Vorpal Bunnies, and was able to wipe them out with MAHALITO before they could hit anyone.  I'm still a little worried about them, because the name implies that they could kill a character in one hit.

My only encounter with Vorpal Bunnies.

As far as spells go, I've been mostly relying on MAHALITO, with KATINO for weaker foes.  I just got LAHALITO, which is like MAHALITO but does more damage.  While exploring I've been using LOMILWA, which is a light spell with an unlimited duration that reveals secret doors.  It sure beats the wall-bashing that I was doing on level 1, and ensures that I wont miss any hidden areas.  I've also had MAPORFIC running, which lasts for an entire dungeon expedition and reduces the Armor Class of everyone in the party by 2.

I'm not sure if I've had a run of good luck, or if I just haven't gotten to the really hard stuff yet, but I feel like I'm doing really well.  Once I got past that initial hump and gained a few levels this game became pretty breezy.  I think I might grind for a bit to see if I can get my mages and priests to level 13 before I continue on.  That's the level where they hit their maximum spell levels; if I'm happy with the spells I've learned at that point, I'm thinking of swapping the classes of my priests and mages; having four characters with access to all of the game's spells does seem like something to aim for.  Whether I stick with the grinding depends on how much experience I'll need to get to level 13.  At the moment it's been fairly reasonable, but I suspect that the amounts needed will ramp up pretty significantly from this point on.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Plugging My Newest Blog

I should have a post about Wizardry ready to go on the weekend, but in the meantime I have another blog I've been working on with some regularity: Chronology XIf you're into X-Men comics you might want to check it out, but be warned that this is extremely focused on deep-dive continuity issues and minutiae related to the passage of time.  I'm trying to construct a working X-Men timeline based on clues from within the comics, so we're talking extremely pedantic nerd bullshit here.  If that sounds like something you might enjoy, please head on over there and take a look.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Wizardry: Level One

When I left off with Wizardry, I had just finished my first ill-fated foray into the dungeons below King Trebor's castle.  Both of my fighters (Mean Joe and Bubba) were dead, as as my thief (Chico).  It was time to make some hard decisions.

First, I went to the Temple of Cant to find out how much it would cost to raise my characters from the dead.  I had some trouble with the interface here, as the temple refused to acknowledge the presence of my dead characters.  In a somewhat baffling bit of design, you can't raise characters that are in your party, you have to remove them first.  Once I figured this out, I discovered that it would cost me 250 gold to raise one character.  This was quite a bit beyond my means, unless I started selling equipment.

Instead, I decided to abandon Chico and Bubba, stripping them of their gear first.  In their place I created another hobbit thief called Flanker, and a human fighter named Roland.  I gave them the equipment of my former party members, and used their starting funds to bring back Mean Joe.  It's probably not worth raising 1st level characters, but Mean Joe got a lot of points during character creation, and has some pretty exceptional stats.

Getting Mean Joe raised at the temple.

My second foray into the dungeon started somewhat more successfully.  I ran into a group of Bubbly Slimes, which I was able to kill with ease as they only cause 1 or 2 point of damage per hit.  My luck turned on the next encounter, though, as I encountered some friendly Kobolds.  Feeling confident I decided to take them on, only for them to almost immediately kill my cleric, Father Fred.  It's karma for attacking a friendly group, I suppose, but at this point I'd made two forays and ended up with dead characters each time.  This game was looking more daunting by the second.

Without the funds for resurrection I consigned Father Fred to the graveyard, and replaced him with another cleric called Osric.  Back in the dungeon, Osric was almost immediately slain when I was surprised by a group of Bushwackers.  We ran away, and I started to wonder if the cleric position in my party was cursed.  I was going through them like Spinal Tap goes through drummers.  Osric went into the graveyard, and I recruited yet another cleric, this one named Pious Pete.  At least this constant character churn was adding to my coffers...

On my fourth dungeon foray, I finally started to have some success.  I killed some orcs, some kobolds, and some kobold skeletons, and when I returned to the castle and rested at the Adventurer's Inn a bunch of my characters levelled up.  Levelling up in Wizardry is something of a double-edged sword.  The extra hit points and general survivability is great, as are the stat bonuses.  But some of my characters' stats were lowered as well, which kind of takes the excitement out of it.  They do tend to gain more than they lose, but I can't say I love it.

A rare all-positive level-up.

Both of my mages hit 2nd level, but only one of them learned a new spell; I assume that whether they gain spells on levelling up is based on IQ.  Misto learned MOGREF, which increases the caster's Armor Class by 2.  This might be useful later on when I have some characters that can fight as well as casting spells, but for my mages at the moment it's a wasted spell, as they're in the back rank where they can't be attacked.

I should probably explain the combat system at this point.  Each round, the player chooses what each character in the party is going to do: Fight, Parry, Cast a Spell, Use an Item, Dispell Undead, or Run Away.  Only the first three characters in the party can fight, but those in the back rank are able to target monsters with spells.  (There are no missile weapons such as bows.)  Once all of your commands have been entered, a bunch of text scrolls by telling you what happened during the round.  It's all quite fast-paced, and the plethora of spells available to the PCs and special qualities of the monsters make for a wide variety of tactics.  It already feels like the most robust, well-executed combat system on the blog so far, and I've barely scratched the surface of it.

Monsters attack in groups.  I believe that there is a maximum of four groups of monsters in one combat, although I'm not sure if there's a limit to the number of monsters within a group.  (I'm somewhat dreading the possibility that I might encounter something along the lines of Bard's Tales's legendary fight with 99 Berserkers, 99 Berserkers, 99 Berserkers and 99 Berserkers.)  Sometimes you will know exactly what the monsters are, but at other times you only know their general type.  For example, Small Humanoids could be either Orcs or Kobolds.  Scruffy Men could be either Rogues or Bushwackers.  At the moment it's not a massive deal, because there aren't any monsters on the 1st dungeon level that are overwhelmingly powerful in comparison to the others (although Bushwackers have given me the hairiest moments, for sure).  There's a spell that identifies all of the monsters in an encounter, and I'm sure that will be handy on lower levels once I've learned it.

Mean Joe contemplates his options in combat.

So far I've encountered the following monsters:

  • Orcs and Kobolds: Handily dealt with by casting KATINO to put them to sleep.  They do sometimes attack in large numbers, though, which is good for experience points but potentially dangerous.  Once I gained a few levels, they mostly started running away rather than fighting.
  • Bubbly Slimes: These are immune to KATINO, but it hardly matters, because they're weak and do very little damage.
  • Kobold Skeletons: Because these creatures are undead, a priest can Dispell them.  This will instantly destroy a number of them, but the tradeoff is that you don't earn any experience for Dispelled undead.
  • Rogues and Bushwackers: These guys can also be put to sleep, although it doesn't seem as effective against them as it is on Orcs and Kobolds.  Rogues aren't too bad, but Bushwackers are by far the nastiest monsters on the 1st dungeon level.  I've lost more characters to them than any other monster.

Sometimes one side or another gains surprise, which grants a full round of attacks.  As far as I can tell there's nothing you can do to influence whether this happens.  This is a shame, because being surprised by monsters can be pretty bad for the party; I've already lost a few characters in this way, and there was nothing I could do about it.

After a combat is over (when the monsters are dead, or have run away), you will get experience and treasure.  Sometimes the treasure is inside a chest, and often that chest will be trapped.  Early on the only way I had to identify and disarm traps was by having my thief examine the chest.  If it's identified as a TRAPLESS CHEST, I can just open it and claim the treasure.  If there's a trap, such as a POISON NEEDLE, I have to disarm it by typing the trap's name.  Sometimes the thief will misidentify the trap, or fail to disarm it, and either of these can be deadly.  Flanker has been pretty successful so far, and has only been poisoned once.  I don't have a spell to cure poison yet, but if you can make it back to the castle before the poisoned character dies, they'll be automatically cured.  It's one of this game's few nods toward compassion for the player.

Flanker disarms a crossbow bolt trap.

With some levels under my belt, exploration went a lot more smoothly.  (Well, okay, Mean Joe did get killed again by Bushwackers, but I had the funds to raise him.)  The bottom left quarter of level 1 is where I'd been doing all of my grinding, and there was nothing of interest there.  The top left quarter was also similarly devoid of interest, but at the end of a long corridor between the two I found some stairs leading down.  I wasn't even slightly tempted to take them; this game's reputation for deadliness is enough to make me wary of even the slightest risks.

In the top right section, I finally found something: a silver statue of a boar with horns and long fangs.  A barely legible message, apparently left by passing elves, warned of ghosts and demons.  Searching the statue yielded a Silver Key, which turned up in Mean Joe's inventory.  I immediately switched it to Merlin, because fighters always need more inventory space than spell-casters.

Finding a silver statue.

Between the top left and top right quarters was an area with a sign, warning me that it was "OUT OF LIMITS", and that I should turn back.  I waited to explore this area until I'd run out of other options, but no adventurer worth their salt has ever heeded this kind of warning.  The area beyond was a wide corridor shrouded in darkness; I didn't try a light spell, but if my experience with Bard's Tale is anything to go by it wouldn't work.  Instead I just fumbled around bumping into walls in order to map the place.

At the north end of the passage was an alcove, with four buttons marked A through D on the wall.  I decided to leave these alone for now.  Like I said, I am playing this game with the utmost caution.  Further back along the corridor was a room where I encountered a small man in a long robe.  He told us to "begone", and with a wave of his hand and some magic words teleported us back to the castle.  At first I worried that maybe I had missed something here, but when I went back he was still there, and teleported us again.  I'm sure this guy will come in handy when I need to make a quick exit.  (I wonder if using his magic words to cast a spell would work? I suspect not, but it would be pretty cool.)

Getting teleported to safety by an angry wizard.

During all of this exploration I was building gold and experience, and gaining levels.  I upgraded my fighters to breastplates, and then to plate mail.  I bought a breastplate +1 for Pious Pete, because priests can't wear plate mail.  There are other magic items and weapons at the shop, but they're still a bit out of my price range.

My priest and mages learned a number of new spells, which I'll list below.

Pious Pete:

  • KALKI: Reduces the Armor Class of all party members by 1, which is a lot more useful than the mage's MOGREF.
  • PORFIC: Reduces the AC of the caster considerably.  There's no number given, and I haven't tested it out yet, so I don't know how much better it is than KALKI.
  • MILWA: A light spell.  You can see in the dungeon without a spell, but MILWA lets you see further and reveals secret doors.  I'm not sure it's really that necessary, because you can see secret doors sometimes without the spell, and ramming into walls is just as effective.
  • MATU: This 2nd level spell is exactly like KALKI, but reduces the party's AC by 2.  It's a little odd to see KALKI made obselete so quickly.
  • CALFO: A 2nd level spell that identifies the trap on a chest 95% of the time.  I was hoping that this would be the equivalent of TRAP ZAP from Bard's Tale, but unfortunately it only identifies the trap and doesn't disarm it.  The first time I used it, it told me that a chest was safe when it actually had a poison needle trap, so I'm pretty dubious about this spell already.
  • MANIFO: This 2nd level spell freezes one group of enemies, but only for a few combat rounds.  I haven't tested it out yet.
  • LATUMAPIC: A 3rd level spell that reveals the exact nature of the monsters you're facing.  I haven't needed it on the 1st dungeon level, but I'm sure this will come in handy later on.
  • LOMILWA: A 3rd level light spell like MILWA, but with a longer duration.

Misto and Merlin:

  • DUMAPIC: Gives you your exact coordinates in relation to the stairs up to the castle.  This spell is integral for mapping, especially when you have to deal with being teleported.
  • DILTO: A 2nd level darkness spell, which lowers the defense of a group of monsters.
  • SOPIC: This 2nd level spell makes the caster transparent, and lowers their AC by 4.  As with MOGREF, this spell is currently useless as my mages aren't in the front line.
  • MAHALITO: A 3rd level fireball spell that deals 4-24 damage to one group of monsters.  I foresee this one becoming a major staple of my arsenal.

Putting some kobolds to sleep with KATINO.

My final foray for this session was an exploration of the bottom right area of the level.  I hadn't found a way in there, so I set about looking for secret doors (by ramming myself into the walls, not using a light spell like a sane person).  Eventually I found one at the end of a long corridor; it led off the right edge of the map and entered on the left side.  (I was kind of irritated to learn that Wizardry's maps wrapped around, but I was definitely expecting it. It's a genre staple.)  As I explored the corridor beyond, I soon found myself teleported to a room with many doors.  I made camp and used DUMAPIC to get my bearings; I was in the bottom right area of the 1st level, as I'd hoped.

Through one of the doors I found another teleporter, which just sent me back to the spot I'd been teleported to a minute earlier.  This kind of thing can play havoc with mapping, but I wised up to it right away.  Another door led to a small room with a bronze statue depicting a beast with the body of a chicken and the head of a cat.  Searching the statue, I found a Bronze Key.  (I transferred this to Merlin as I'd done with the Silver Key.)

Through the third door I tried was a statue of a hooded humanoid, covered in jewels, with a light coming from inside the hood.  Fresh incense was burning on an altar in front of the statue.  I was a little nervous to examine it, because I'd already searched two statues with positive results; one of them was bound to backfire on me eventually.  Sure enough, when I searched this statue I was attacked by a pair of monsters called Murphy's Ghosts.

In combat with "unseen entities", before I identified
them as Murphy's Ghosts

These creatures didn't hit very hard, only doing 2 or 3 points of damage at a time, but they had a lot of hit points and were immune to most of my spells.  Even though they appeared to be undead, Pious Pete's attempt to Dispell them was ineffective.  KATINO (sleep) didn't work, and they were immune to MAHALITO (fireball) and all of my other attack spells.  I simply kept wailing away on them, hoping that they'd run out of hp before I did and firing off all of my spells to find something that would work.  In the end, lowering my AC with KALKI and MATU seemed like the way to go; I was surprised to discover that multiple castings of the spell were effective, and I could lower my AC more than once.  I finally killed the ghosts, and got my biggest experience reward to date, but it was a close-run thing, as all of my front rank characters had less than 10 hp left.

I was a little nervous at this point, because I had no idea how to get back to the castle.  The other doors I hadn't tried all led to a maze of one-way doors, but eventually I found my way into a winding corridor that led to the dark area I'd explored earlier.  I made it out without being attacked, and visited the old wizard for a teleport back to the castle.  Most of my characters gained a level, and I was pretty happy to have fully mapped the 1st dungeon level.

My map of level 1.  I hope I can get into those
blocked off areas later on.

The plan for my next foray is to investigate the buttons I ignored earlier, or to take the stairs down to level 2.  Alternatively, I might stick around on level 1 for a while and grind for experience.  It seems like the prudent thing to do, and the Murphy's Ghosts encounter does give a pretty large reward; I'm not sure it's worth it for how annoying the battle is, but maybe that will become less of a problem as I get stronger.

I probably will grind for a while, because I'm starting to feel like I should change up my party.  For starters, one priest isn't enough.  I'm already concerned about only having one healer, and I'm sure it will become a bigger problem the deeper I delve.  Replacing my thief seems like the best option, but then I worry about missing out on treasure inside chests.  I know I can use CALFO to identify traps, but how effective are the non-thief classes at disarming them safely?  What I might end up doing is having some extra party members and mixing them around.  This will give me a bit more flexibility, and give me some back-ups if I ever need to launch a rescue mission.  I'm feeling pretty confident right now, but I'm well aware that one bad minute could have me back at square one.