One Last Thought on Legacy in Wizardry

In a previous post, I described the possibility of legacy admissions in Legacy of Llylgamyn: that if you want characters with all of the honor marks for successfully completing scenarios, the best way to do it would be to make new characters to do all the dangerous parts, then use them to chaperone the legacy characters through relatively-safe high-XP grinding, letting the descendants of those who did great deeds in the past reap the benefits of other people’s work.

Having now been through the ending in Wizardry III, I see it’s even better than that. You can get your legacy characters the mark for beating the game without ever sending them into the dungeon at all. When a party returns from the dungeon with the Orb of Earithin, they receive the victory mark, but you also get to select up to six other characters from the roster to mark too. Presumably this was intended to support the “one good party and one evil party” style of gameplay: if you used two parties to get the stuff you need to win the game, it seems a little unfair for only one of them to get the honors. But since the game lets you share the honors with anyone you want, even if they didn’t do anything, you have the option to be unfair in other ways.

Wizardry II does something similar: the endgame, which is more ritual than challenge, has to be done by one character entering the dungeon solo with a complete Knight of Diamonds outfit. When they emerge with the Staff of Gnilda, they get to bestow honors on companions who helped them — but there, the ones you pick get a different mark than the one who actually did the ritual. If you really want a character with every single mark, you’d have to complete Wiz2 twice, once to give that character the Knight of Diamonds mark and once to give them the helper mark. But you can still minimize the involvement of the character who’s getting the marks, and thus minimize risk to them. If your designated hero character can survive dungeon level 1, your worker characters can hand them all the pieces of the costume and send them off to do the ending.

You pretty much have to get your mark from Wizardry I honestly, though. The only way to do it there is to come out of the dungeon with the amulet, which you can only get by defeating Werdna, and which you don’t get to keep afterward. And sure, there are ways to do that with a character who hasn’t actually fought Werdna. They could die in the dungeon and get picked up and resurrected by a victorious party on their way out. But there’s really not much reason to do that, other than exploit for exploit’s sake.

Wizardry III: Wrapping Up to the Extent Possible

When I took up the frightening task of exploring the sixth and final level, with its new and unfamiliar monsters like berzerkers and cyclopes 1The game doesn’t seem to ever make a group of more than one cyclops, which is reasonable for a giant, but more importantly means they didn’t have to decide how to pluralize the word., I was relieved to find that all my preparations had put me in a good position for it. I was ready. Even the dragon L’kbreth, guardian of the Orb of Earithin, acknowledged my worthiness when I met her surprisingly early in my explorations.

The one thing I didn’t have that I was reluctant to go into the endgame without was a character who could cast TILTOWAIT, the ultimate direct-damage spell — something mages can pick up early as experience level 13, but here I had a level 15 mage, my highest-level character, and they still hadn’t managed it. But they finally, belatedly got it on reaching level 16 while exploring the maze.

The maze on level 6 strikes me as being patterned on something like a fruit tree: a small but straight trunk leads to L’kbreth, and after that it goes into a tangle of branches, dotted with isolated 3×3 sections accessible only through extra-secret doors. One of these apples contains the Orb. A couple of others have decoys, but you can tell the one with the real orb because it starts with an especially tough fixed encounter against an Arch Demon and some Fiends. This was the only place I needed to use TILTOWAIT, and even there, I held off for a couple of rounds out of a sense that I had been doing so well without it that it would be a shame to start now. I could only cast it so many times, so maybe I should save it for a confrontation that’s more climactic? But this was in fact the final boss fight. It just didn’t feel climactic because it was so incidental. In the previous two games, when I fought the final boss, I had gone into the dungeon with the specific purpose of seeking them out and defeating them. I didn’t even know the Arch Demon was there.

That’s because the real final boss is the maze itself. It’s a big contrast to Wizardry I, which basically led you by the nose, not letting you get lost. Here in Wizardry III, you’re expected to map the place out (without using DUMAPIC!) enough to notice the voids. And since the desire to make maps was the whole impetus for this month-long Wizardry binge, that suited me fine.

One last peculiar thing: Just as the game ends without a satisfyingly climactic boss fight, so too does it end without a satisfying resolution to its premise. Retrieving the Orb doesn’t end the cataclysms. It just lets the sages in Llylgamyn gather more information about them. Will we see this resolved on-screen, or will it just happen between episodes? Well, apparently we’ve got one more direct sequel. We’ll find out when we get to Wizardry V.

(Not Wizardry IV? Oh, that’s not a sequel to Wizardry III. It’s a sequel to Wizardry I. I’ll talk more about it in my next post.)

References
1 The game doesn’t seem to ever make a group of more than one cyclops, which is reasonable for a giant, but more importantly means they didn’t have to decide how to pluralize the word.

Wizardry III: A Little Fungicide

I’ve figured out how to deal with the Priests of Fung, how to get through their area without loss of life or speculative teleporting (which is both risky and cheaty). It has to do with something that I really thought was a bug.

See, there’s something that I had been thinking of as “anti-magic fields” — areas where you can’t cast spells 1Except for CALFO, the spell for detecting traps on chests, which is cast from the “What do you want to do with this chest?” menu instead of the interfaces you normally spells from. I’m assuming that this really is a bug., but neither can enemies. It takes away your greatest weapon, reducing you to winning fights with your actual fighters, but also removes the biggest dangers. Level 5 has such a field on an area of magical darkness — the only darkness field I’ve seen in Wizardry III. It’s a combination that makes it very difficult to navigate, as you can’t see where you’re going and you can’t cast DUMAPIC to check your location. You can’t just back out the way you came, because the door into the area is one-way. You can’t even teleport out. The occasional pit trap adds some urgency to the situation. An “ethereal taxi” service has set up shop in several points in the darkness to take advantage of your desperation, offering to whisk you back to town for an exorbitant fee. But it is possible to make it back to the rest of the dungeon, if you keep track of your movements carefully.

Now, here’s the apparent bug: The effects of the anti-magic field don’t turn off when you leave the anti-magic field. (I noticed a spot like this in Knight of Diamonds as well. Possibly it applies to all anti-magic fields.) Once you’ve been in it, you can’t cast spells until you leave the level. But neither can anything else. Remember how the big threat posed by the Priests of Fung was instant-death spells? You can just turn those off.

In fact, it’s even better than that. Priests of Fung, like most enemy spellcasters, always cast spells unless they can’t (either because they’ve run out, or because they’re in a surprise round). Even when they weren’t instant-killing my guys, they were doing tons of damage with reverse healing spells like BADIALMA. Do a little detour through the anti-magic field, and basically all their attacks fizzle. It turns them from the most dangerous things I’ve encountered to the most helpless.

(And on top of that, after doing a few rounds through Fungland, I noticed that the anti-magic field actually begins just outside of the darkness room, letting me streamline the process and not lose my light spell by skipping the darkness. Maybe the darkness and the anti-magic don’t actually overlap at all.)

So, I’ve mapped out all of level 5 now. Do I go on to level 6? Not quite yet: these Priests of Fung provide the most efficient and risk-free grinding yet, and I’m still getting really good equipment drops from them. Once I do a pass without permanently improving someone’s armor class, I’ll consider it.

Is the behavior of anti-magic fields in fact unintentional? I’ve already documented some apparent mistakes that got preserved in this edition, so it’s far from implausible. But I’d like to think it’s an intentional puzzle. The fact that it puts the episode’s first anti-magic field right on the one level where it’s really useful makes it seem like it’s not coincidence. And for my money, this sort of thing is Wizardry at its best: making situational puzzles out of previously-established game mechanics.

References
1 Except for CALFO, the spell for detecting traps on chests, which is cast from the “What do you want to do with this chest?” menu instead of the interfaces you normally spells from. I’m assuming that this really is a bug.

Wizardry III: Monster Encounter Details

Monster encounters in Wizardry are built from templates. Each has anywhere from one to four groups of monsters, each group consisting of a single monster type in a quantity anywhere from 1 to 9. Both the number of groups and the maximum monsters per group increase as you get further into the dungeon, from a maximum of 2 groups of 5 on level 1 to a maximum of 4 groups of 9 on level 5 and beyond.

Moreover, there seems to be a fixed set of combinations. For example, on level 4 (where I’m still grinding), one of the combinations is one group of Two-Headed Snakes (dangerous creatures, venomous and hard to kill) accompanied by up to three groups of Anacondas (weaksauce). That’s a fairly common pattern: a bunch of underlings and a boss. Ninjas and Master Ninjas. Vultures and Rocs. Crusaders and Crusader Lords (there to fight the Garians?). Another pattern: Completely homogenous mobs, just massive swarms of of Strangler Vines or Doom Beetles. Sometimes you’ll encounter a monster alone like this on one level, and together with its boss version farther along.

The most interesting monster pattern is what I think of as the Variety Pack: three or four types commonly seen in each others’ company, like the Necromancers/Dwarf Fighters/Men at Arms combo frequently seen on level 4, or the Faerie/Pixie/Leprechauns of level 5. Some of these combos approximate a well-balanced party, some are more specialized — but even the balanced ones become specialized when some of their components are missing, as happens at random.

Some monsters appear in multiple patterns: Dwarf Fighters can be found leading three groups of Men at Arms, and they can be found backing up a bunch of Necromancers in a variety pack. Other monsters are only seen in very specific groupings, without even any variation in numbers. On level 5, you’ll sometimes encounter a Seraph and a Nocorn. Always just the two of them, no one else, and always together. It makes me wonder what their story is, in a way I don’t experience with the more fully random encounters.

Wizardry III: Back to the Grindstone

After the ruminations in my last post, I’ve decided to drop back to the grinding spot on dungeon level 4 for the time being. I had given up on it before as actually having a too-high risk-to-reward ratio, something level 5 fixed by offering greater rewards: more XP, better loot. But now that my characters have more hit points and better armor, the risk on level 4 has dropped considerably. And with the ability to summon as many random encounters as I want, it’s the next best thing to Murphy’s Ghost — the main downside being that I do still have to think about tactics somewhat.

I suppose it’s a fairly common pattern in CRPGs: the One Spot Especially Suited to Grinding. whether by accident or design, like Final Fantasy VI‘s “dinosaur forest”. But usually the grinding spot is more optional, something you only need to find if you’re trying to max out your power and get achievements or something, not just finish the main story. Here in Wizardry III, it seems essential. I could still be wrong about that, though. Maybe the Fung temple is more like the optional extra-hard miniboss and my fear of level 6 is unjustified. But I don’t intend to find out until I’ve leveled up some more.

So basically it’s going to be a while before anything interesting happens again. I’ve come to understand that this is a long-haul game, and not ideally suited to binge playing or serial blogging. But I’m willing to regard coming up with something new to say about it every day as a sort of special challenge.

Wizardry III: Difficulty

Wizardry III is a difficult game — easily the most difficult Wizardry I’ve played, and I’ve played Wizardry IV, the one that has a reputation for extreme difficulty. But that’s a whole different thing. Wizardry IV‘s difficulty is mainly in its puzzles, some of which require specialized knowledge, like the Kabbalah or Monty Python references. And while that sort of riddlery might stop someone cold, I found the game had been written from the same sort of geek culture that I myself was immersed in.

I’ve encountered this mismatch of difficulty assessment elsewhere. Spellbreaker is supposed to be Infocom’s hardest adventure, but I’ve never understood why — all it really takes is an “I wonder what happens if I do this?” mindset and some slight knowledge of classic math puzzles. The coin-op game Sinistar has a reputation for being unusually hard, but I always could last about as long in it as in other games of its type — although in this case I suspect it more signifies that I’m not very good at space shooters in general, so it’s not so much “For me, Sinistar is as easy as these other games” as “For me, these other games are as hard as Sinistar“.

Anyway, the thing that makes Wizardry III particularly difficult isn’t the puzzles, but that it demands patience. Wizardry I let you power-level at the Murphy’s Ghost room, and Wizardry II let you import your overpowered characters from Wizardry I, but if there’s any option like that in Wizardry III, I haven’t found it. You have to level up the slow and risky way. Sure, you get some ability to trade that off, choosing where to grind to make it less slow but more risky, or vice versa. But that means that when things get too slow for your liking, there’s a temptation to take on more risk than you can handle.

Wizardry III: Fung Yeah!

I’ve mapped out most of level 5, and even acquired a Crystal of Good to go with my Crystal of Evil, but there are still parts of the level that I’m clearly not ready to tackle yet. One enclosed mazy region has been claimed by priests of Fung the Irascible, who stop and harass you every two steps or so. They’ve got instant-death spells — sure, they fail most of the time, but when they don’t, the result is instant death. So I’ve been mostly leaving them the Fung alone. Nonetheless, I managed to get a party stuck inside their turf by teleportation — not a fixed teleporter with a planned destination like before, but one of the random teleporter traps you sometimes find on chests.

Seriously, those teleporters are the scariest traps in the game. With high-level characters, you barely notice the effects of most traps. I spent a while adventuring without a thief recently, and couldn’t disarm traps at all, and my basic approach to most was like “Oh, an exploding box? That’s fine, my guys have good armor. Poison needle? I can cure poison a bunch of times. Mage Blaster? It’ll turn my mage to stone if I open it? Sure, he can take it.” Teleporter traps, though? I left those alone, when I successfully identified them. Which is something even the best thief possible only does 95% of the time. Hence the predicament I was describing.

I applied the same tactics as last time, leaving the teleported party suspended in the dungeon while I brought in a different party to explore the unexplored and figure out how to get them out of there. The big problem was that even a fact-gathering mission would have to go through multiple Fung encounters. So I spent a good long time leveling up, and came to the conclusion that there was in fact a fairly short route from the party’s current location to the exit, but that they’d probably all die along the way. But at least I could make them die in a more convenient place, one where I’d only get Funged one or two times on the way to collect the corpses. And as chance would have it, that didn’t even come to pass: the very first encounter after reactivating them had another chest with a teleporter trap, carrying them out of danger as easily as they were carried in.

The main effect of this misadventure, then, is that I spent a lot of time leveling up in preparation for Mission: Fung. I have two level-13 characters now! That’s a big watershed in this game: level 13 is when you get access to the highest spell level. In particular, I now have a mage who can teleport, which should help further exploration enormously.

Wizardry III: Where are we?

One thing about Wizardry III I haven’t mentioned yet: the orientalism. It’s not a very big part of the game, really — it’s skin-deep in a game that barely even has a skin. But the first level — remember that castle? The inhabitants of the castle have the unidentified name “Corsair”, and their portrait shows a man in a keffiyeh holding a scimitar. When identified, they turn out to be “Garians” of various sorts — Garian Raiders, Garian Guards, Garian Mages, and so forth — but their boss in the back of the castle is identified as “High Corsair”. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. Were they intended to be Arabs? The art is really the only thing to suggest it, and since I’m playing the PC version, it’s not even the original art. (Wizardry‘s native platform is the Apple II.) The word “Corsair” was certainly used historically for the Muslim pirates of the Barbary coast, but also for pirates in general. And “Garian” sounds like they’re named after someone named Gary.

(Incidentally, the same scimitar-guy image used for vultures, which seems like it must be a mistake. I was willing to contemplate the possibility that the word “vulture” was a nickname or metaphor, but apparently their unidentified name is “Large Bird”.)

Anyway, you pretty much leave these questionably-Eastern individuals behind when you leave level 1 behind and the niche of basic-humanoids-that-are-occasionally-spellcasters gets taken over by goblins. But I was reminded of it when I started encountering particularly pernicious dragons called “T’ien Lung” and started wonder just how far east of Llylgamyn this mountain is. (I assume just on the basis of orthography that Llylgamyn is in Wales.) But then, as I’ve noted before, the fauna is all over the place, what with the anacondas and Bengal tigers and whatnot. Before the T’ien Lung started showing up, the dragons I kept having trouble with were Komodo dragons. Like real Komodos, their bite is infectious; unlike real Komodos, they also breathe fire.

The Garians seem a little different, though, because they’re not just random encounters. They have a headquarters, and guard posts at fixed locations. Anything else could be just visiting, but the Garians live here.

Wizardry III: End of Level 4 Observations

I’ve seen every last tile of level 4 now, even the secret bits. This also goes for the parts of level 2 that are only accessible from level 4. That done, I spent a while just grinding for XP and item drops, because level 4 has a very good place to do this, where you can basically summon random encounters at will by deliberately stepping on traps. It’s like the Murphy’s Ghost area that way, but more varied and dangerous.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure I made an overall profit on it, XP-wise, due to the occasional encounter with level-draining undead. Most monsters become less of a peril as you gain experience levels: a monster that can hit you for 8 points of damage will kill a level-1 character outright, but be far less of a concern to a level-10 character with 50 or more total health. But level-draining monsters like Banshees are the opposite. The higher-level the character, the more XP the banshees take away when they manage to hit you. Presumably there’s a break-even point where you gain levels exactly as fast as you lose them, but exactly where that point lies depends on your defenses and your party’s initiative. The best way to deal with Banshees is to kill them all before they get any attacks in, throwing all your highest-level group damage spells at them just to be sure — yes, the game successfully makes me terrified of undead, as is appropriate.

But any encounter has a chance of giving the monsters a surprise round — if you’re really unlucky and ill-prepared, they can kill your entire party before you have a chance to react. Good armor helps here — and that’s what all this grinding is really good for. Every once in a while, I find enchanted armor or a magical pendant or something, usually improving someone’s AC by but a single point, but every single point has a perceivable effect.

At any rate, I’ve braved level 5 by now, albeit just barely. I haven’t yet encountered anything there that wasn’t on level 4 — it’s not clear to me if there’s really a steady increase in difficulty from level 1 onward or if it compensates for the way it’s set up to send good and evil characters into different parallel tracks by making 2 equivalent to 3 and 4 to 5. But I’m not taking any chances.

Wizardry III: Alignment-Locking

I’ve been spending quite some time on the 4th floor. It’s been slow going, but this is not a bad thing — indeed, I’ve reached a state where I’m enjoying the game completely without reservation! It’s hit a sweet spot of slow but steady incremental progress, where each venture into the dungeon adds just a little bit more to the map before I’m forced to retreat, and random equipment drops yield something new and better just often enough to be encouraging, but not so often that it stops feeling special.

But for a while, it was going slow because I didn’t have a quick way to get to level 4, and had to take the long route all the way through the moated fortress on level 1 and then from one corner to the other of level 2’s winding maze. There’s a stair joining levels 1 and 4, right next to a stair joining levels 1 and 5, but they’re across a lake from the entrance. The means of crossing the lake is an item called “Ship in a Bottle” — a lovely bit of whimsy, and also a little bit of a puzzle, as the item name is all you get, and exactly how it gets you across the lake is left to the imagination. This kind of guessing-on-the-basis-of-scant-clues puzzle is really coming to the fore, and I remember it being a big factor in Wizardry IV as well. Anyway, the Ship in a Bottle is a very common drop on level 4, but I wasn’t finding it at first, because I wasn’t opening chests. When I was new to the area and scared of the monsters in it, I left the thieves out of the party to make room for a second cleric, and without a thief, you really want to leave chests alone.

But even when I couldn’t use those stairs as a quick entrance, I could use them as a quick exit. This has to do with what I’ve been calling “alignment-locked”. Levels 2 through 5 are alignment-locked: a party with any evil characters can’t enter levels 2 or 4, and a party with any good characters can’t enter levels 3 or 5. I think the content of the levels is tailored to their alignment a bit, too. Level 3, an evil level, has evil architecture: the bulk of the level looks like a massive open space, but is really made of one-way walls, invisible and passable from one side, visible and impassible from the other. Also, it has the most evil trap I’ve seen: an open passage into a space that, once entered, turns out to be solid rock. Teleporting into rock is one of the few ways to instantly lose an entire party with no possibility of resurrection, and here it’s possible to do it without even teleporting. To be fair, it’s preceded by a series of signposts warning you away, but if I paid any attention to warning signs, I never would have finished Wizardry I. Anyway, levels 2 and 4, the good-aligned ones, have plenty of tricks and traps of their own, but they play relatively fair about it.

So, what happens if you try to enter an alignment-locked level with the wrong party? You get teleported back to town, that’s what. And that’s why a stair to level 4 and a stair to level 5 next to each other work as a quick exit, even if you can’t cross the lake to the stairs out.

Now, level 4 also has a stair up to what I believe to be level 6. And it displays the same behavior: attempting to go up it sends you back to town with the familiar “You’re not welcome here” message. And that made me wonder, because it seemed like it was expecting an evil party, but an evil party couldn’t get into level 4. A puzzle! There were two obvious approaches, but neither seemed very practical. First, you could stay on level 4 until you had fought enough friendly encounters to turn your good party evil. But this would require surviving on level 4 for a very long time. Second, you could create an entire neutral party, which should in theory be allowed everywhere. The problem with this is that an all-neutral party couldn’t have any healers — priests are allowed to be either good or evil, but they have to be one or the other. Perhaps a mixed party would be allowed through? I made a note to try experiments once I finished mapping out levels 4 and 5.

But in fact I found a solution without meaning to. I had a weary and injured party, looking for the quickest way out, and it looked like getting teleported back to town by those stairs up would be it. To my horror, however, they simply went up the stairs. I immediately realized it had to be due to the Crystal of Evil in my inventory, picked up after a tough battle with a wizard named Delf, whose minions turn people to stone (a status I can’t cure yet, but I can easily afford the fee to have it done in town). I closed my laptop still in the dungeon, wondering what to do, and after some time, it came to me: Go back down the stairs, drop the crystal, and go back up again, both getting back home intact and confirming my guess. The game doesn’t really keep state for stuff in the dungeon; all state-tracking is done through character inventory. So what if I don’t have the plot-important crystal any more? I could just fight Delf for it again — something I kind of wanted to do anyway, because he gives massive XP.

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