Wizardry V: Magical Symmetry

The Wizardry magic system has a skewed symmetry to it. Spellcasting enemies and monsters pull their powers from the same spell list as the player. That may not be so notable today, but it was not something you took for granted in CRPGs of the time. Mainly what it means is that anything you come to rely on to give you an edge in fights will eventually become something the enemy can do as well. Until you can defeat the final boss, there’s no perfect, unassailable supremacy. There’s just an arms race.

I call it “skewed” because, despite perfect symmetry in what spells are available, there’s asymmetry in how spells are used, and it’s produced by the basic asymmetry of a singe party going up against an entire dungeon full of monsters. The player has to worry about wasting spell slots that they might need later. For the monsters, there is no later. They literally only exist for the duration of an encounter. As a result, it makes sense for them to use spells that I’ve declared “not worth it”, especially when they outnumber you and can cast them in quantity. I particularly noticed this back with the single-target instant-death spells used by the Priests of Fung back in Wizardry III, but I’m seeing it more and more with Wizardry V‘s expanded spell list. There’s a spell HAKANIDO that “drains magic”, expending some of its (single) target’s spell slots. This can be devastating when cast on your own casters, who have to continue to deal with the loss after the fight is over, but doesn’t seem worth using on monsters in a normal encounter. It’s a spell that’s in the spell list mainly just so enemies can use it against you, putting it in the same category as things like Animate Dead in D&D. Nonetheless, it’s there for you to use if you want to, and maybe it’ll become more useful at some later point, when I’m facing enemies with high-level spells and preventing their casting is of paramount importance.

Plus of course there’s some trivial asymmetry in what spells are even useful to monsters. There are a number of utility spells that are only used outside of combat, which means combat encounters never use them. There are also combat spells that are only useful against specific types of target, like ZILWAN (does massive damage to undead) and MAGATO (banishes demons). But that’s a relatively trivial matter.

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