Wizardry’s Influence

I keep calling the Wizardry “seminal” and “influential”, and it’s plain to see that loads of other early CRPGs like The Bard’s Tale and Might and Magic are shamelessly imitating it, but what exactly do more modern games owe it? It’s an interesting question. We can set aside the things it inherits from D&D. We can probably even discount the first-person view, which was invented independently in Ultima and its predecessor, Akalabeth, albeit with a simpler model that doesn’t allow for things like one-way walls.

Most of the things that are obvious Wizardry innovations are obvious precisely because they’re not widely-imitated any more, but we can pinpoint a few things that still get used occasionally. The whole business of an extended character roster that only comes together to form parties on a per-session basis has fallen out of favor for most CRPGs, but still forms the basis of Pokémon — not to mention Darkest Dungeon, which uses the construction to great effect by forcing you to give individual characters downtime between missions. (In a way, Wizardry does that too; it just calls the needs-downtime status “Dead”.) Also, the abstraction of positioning into a mere pair of rows, a front row for melee fighters and a back row for casters or anyone you’re trying to protect, was adopted by every Final Fantasy game up to IX.

But I think we can see more influence in the mechanics we now take for granted. Like spell slots — the idea that casters can cast a limited number of spells of each spell level, but the spells themselves are chosen on the fly. Remember that in D&D at the time, all spells were chosen in advance. Slots were clearly a simplification meant to reduce the amount of state associated with each character: instead of a list of as many as 63 prepared spells, a maxed-out caster just has a list of seven numbers from 1 to 9. So it’s a little ironic that this innovation was later embraced by tabletop D&D while CRPGs tended to opt instead for a mana system, where you have just one pool of magic power that different spells use in different mounts.

Similarly, as far as I’ve been able to tell, Wizardry may well be the first RPG, computer or tabletop, to use a “point buy” system for assigning character stats, rather than simply randomizing them. The fact that it chooses to add in an element of randomization anyway, by randomizing the number of points you have to assign, certainly makes it seem like the whole idea was novel and not yet fully trusted.

I recall that 4th edition D&D was criticized in its day for swiping ideas from World of Warcraft. But really, this sort of swiping has been going on for a long time.


2 Comments so far

  1. matt w on 30 Sep 2022

    Steve Jackson’s The Fantasy Trip, starting with Melee in 1977, was a ttrpg with a point buy system. This is what evolved into GURPS. (According to this, “Also in 1977, the obscure game Superhero ’44 used a point-buy system.”

  2. Merus on 1 Oct 2022

    Probably the modern, popular series (not counting niche things like Etrian Odyssey, which was a DS/3DS series built around providing dungeon map-drawing software and then building a JRPG where that’s useful) that takes the most obvious debt from Wizardry as you’ve described it here is the sprawling Shin Megami Tensei series, best known for its sub-series Persona. Both games build on Wizardry’s disposable party mechanics by allowing you to ‘fuse’ party members, sacrificing both but giving you a stronger one (albeit one that might not have a place in your party any more). Mainline Shin Megami Tensei still uses a first-person dungeon camera; Persona is more ‘accessible’, and uses a third-person camera but randomly generated dungeons. Both games also have a magic system using nonsense words that seem to have some underlying logic to them, although in both games it’s presented as channeling supernatural forces you don’t adequately understand.

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