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.