SotSB: Utility Spells

Nearly all of the spells in Secret of the Silver Blades can be divided into three categories: offense, healing, and buffs. All three categories are directly related into combat: offensive spells are for waging combat, healing is for recovering from combat, and buffs are for preparing for combat. This focus on fighting isn’t at all unusual for a CRPG. But it’s notable here because this is a D&D-based game, and it provides only a subset of the spells from D&D.

Some spells are left out because there’s no way that a computer game (especially one from 1990) could handle them adequately, like Stone Shape or Wish. The entire category of illusions relies too much on the player’s creativity and the DM’s judgment of their effects on the viewer to have a satisfying implementation here.

Other spells are left out because the simplified game mechanics leaves no room for them. I mentioned a while back how the system lacks such concepts as darkness and hunger, and thus has no way to support Light or Create Food. Languages seem to also be considered too much hassle to implement, so spells to understand or speak other languages are right out.

And some spells seem to be left out just to be difficult, and possibly to enforce the kind of gameplay that the designers want. There’s no Identify spell, for example. The game system understands the concept of identifying items, you just can’t do it with a spell. You have to take the items back to the store in town to identify them. I assume that the designers felt that the experience of looting equipment and not being able to identify it immediately was important to how they wanted the game played, either because they wanted to give the player reasons to go back to town once in a while, or because they wanted to give players the experience of experimentally trying on unidentified armor while still in the dungeon to determine which bits were worth lugging home.

There are a few pure utility spells in the game, though. There’s Knock, a spell that unlocks doors: I haven’t really needed this at all in SotSB, but there were a couple of doors in Pool of Radiance that I could open no other way. There’s Detect Magic, a useful way to separate out the better loot from an encounter, although it becomes less useful past a certain point: by the endgame, you pretty much take it for granted that everything you find is magical to some degree. Most weirdly, there’s the Read Magic spell. The only thing Read Magic does in this game is intrude on the process of copying a spell into your spellbook, putting a rather pointless extra step into the process. But I guess someone saw value in this.

It should be noted that clerics and magic-users gain spell slots at the same rate as they do in normal second-edition D&D, even though they have fewer useful things to spend them on. This contributes to the sense of monotony in the game, the way that I’ve mainly wound up casting the same combat spells over and over again. But also, there’s a kind of pressure to favor combat spells when exploring new territory (which you’re doing most of the time), because they’re more likely to be useful in an emergency. As such, having one’s primary spellcasters memorize utility spells seems like a waste of a spell slot that could be better spent on offense, healing, or buffs. But warrior-types like Rangers generally don’t cast spells in battle, because they’re better at just fighting. (You can’t even get a ranger to the point of learning Fireball in this game.) This makes them an ideal choice for memorizing utility spells, once they have enough XP to do so.

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