Wizardry III: Leveling

Well, it happened, just like I said it would: I got cocky. My rapid mastery of dungeon levels 2 and 3 led to a total party kill on level 4. The really galling thing here is that my first foray to that depth was relatively placid: I explored a small area, enough to find a quick one-way route back to town, which seems pretty important, given how long it takes to get to and from that level by the front entrance (and how many encounters you’d have along the way, and what shape your party will be in on the way out). On the second trip, I tried to just do a sweep to that exit, but got slaughtered en route. I’ll want to pick up their corpses at some point, but for the moment, they’re out of reach. The one time I attempted that level with another party, I was beaten back; by the time I completed the return journey the long way, only one member of the party remained alive. Most of the rest resurrected successfully, but it’s clear that I’m not going to be able to make more progress until I’ve improved my defenses to the maximum possible extent.

And that’s been a bit of a problem. The dead party had better armor than you can buy in the store, and better also than what I’ve been able to find since. Even worse, my new priest has been strangely unable to master Maporfic. This is a priest spell — all of the spell in the game have nonsense names — a spell that improves the entire party’s armor class, and lasts for the entire expedition, until you go back to town. (Or until you hit an anti-magic field, I suppose, but I haven’t run into any of those yet.) Since it offers potentially unlimited protection for a single casting cost, Maporfic quickly becomes a part of your regular routine on entering the dungeon. I certainly don’t dare consider braving level 4 again without it. But at this point, it’s starting to look like the quickest way to get it will be to create a new priest.

To fully understand my problem, you have to understand how leveling works, and just how random it is. And since leveling up is the focus of my attention at this point, it seems a good time to describe it in detail. As usual, killing monsters (or even just passively standing and watching the rest of the party kill monsters) yields experience points, which yield character levels at exponentially-increasing intervals. Unusually for a CRPG, you don’t gain experience levels in the dungeon; you have to explicitly stay at the Adventurer’s Inn back in town. Sending each party member to the inn becomes part of the post-adventure routine, just like selling your loot. If you failed to level, you get a report of how many more experience points you need; if you succeed, you get a report of exactly how it changed you. You always gain at least one hit point on leveling, but frequently only one — although sometimes you’ll wind up gaining twenty. (As a point of comparison, all level-1 characters have 8 hit points.) Some of your stats will increase by one, but others will decrease by one, with no discernable pattern, except that higher experience levels seem to make increases more likely. At low levels, net stat loss on leveling is not unusual. (I have one fighter in my party whose IQ stat is down to 0; I think it’s possible for it to even go negative.) I know I keep saying this, but: No one would design a game like this today. The whole idea of rewarding experience with random decreases in power seems downright perverse by modern standards. But really, it isn’t as bad as it seems, because the increase in overall power from just being a higher experience level more than compensates for such losses.

Leveling is also how you learn spells. It’s the only way to learn spells, and it’s just as random. Spells come in seven levels, and there are limits on how soon you can learn them (with pure mages and priests getting access to higher spell levels at lower experience levels than bishops, samurai, or lords), but once you have access to a spell level, you’ll just pick up the spells in it at random as you gain experience levels. But it’s quite possible to start picking up level 5 spells before you’ve got all the level 4’s. Quite possible, and quite frustrating.

The one upside of spending three or four experience levels trying to get a particular spell is that, when you’re done, you have a character who’s three or four experience levels higher than before. Even if I decide to give up and power-level up a new priest, having a high-level healer around will expedite it. The amount of time you can spend in the more experience-rich parts of the dungeon is limited mainly by the amount of healing magic you have available.

1 Comment so far

  1. danowar on 12 Jan 2010

    Sounds like Stockholm Syndrome to me. :-)

    I know I won’t be preferring the intended experience of this game over my ability to backup saves…

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