Friday, March 5, 2010

Wizardry: Battle Tactics

It's the dying that gets you in this game. If you could avoid dying--if you could save before battles and re-load if they went poorly--then I'm convinced you could beat Wizardry in a single long day of playing (I say this without having attempted Level 10 yet). We're only talking about ten 20x20 dungeon levels, after all. But without cheating, Wizardry is a real nail-biter. Some review, with new material I've discovered since then:

  • The game saves your progress for you. There's no way to "reload" after a bad battle.
  • If one character dies in combat, you either have to raise him with the DI spell or haul him back up to the surface to get raised at the temple.
  • If you use the DI spell, there's a chance it will fail, turning your character to ash, requiring you to pay even more to get him resurrected. I say "there's a chance," but in fact DI has not worked a single time I have tried to use it. I finally just gave up. Every death requires a trip to the surface.
  • There's a spell called KADORTO that allows you to do your own resurrection, but if it fails, your character is gone for good. Not worth the risk, especially since DI never works.
  • If your entire party is killed, you have to send a search party down into the dungeons to retrieve their bodies. Problem is, most deaths will occur at locations of fixed battles, so your relief party will have to fight the same battle that wiped out your first party. You therefore have to have relief characters as strong as the original party.
  • If your relief party is similarly wiped out, you're screwed. It's back to Level 1 with a brand new party.
The specter of permanent death consequently makes Wizardry the most tactical game I have ever played. You can't half-ass any battle because, trust me on this, you really, really don't want to die. This means that you have to carefully contemplate every action.

Consider this screen shot from the beginning of a battle.

As with every battle, my goal is to wipe out these foes while minimizing damage to myself. There are two other considerations to add to the mix:

  • My spellcasters have a limited number of spells. You only replenish spells when you revisit the surface (which is kind of a pain in the neck). So you want to use as few spells as possible in each battle, saving your high-level spells for the battles that really need them.
  • For a few rounds, I won't know what groups 1 and 3 are. The "mean in leather" are some kind of thief class and the "men in armor" are some kind of samurai or fighter class--I can tell this easy enough from the pictures. But I don't know what levels they are or, hence, how powerful they are.
So how do I approach this? My first characters, Karsa and Gruntle, are fighters, and as such they can pretty much just attack. But who should I attack first?

Crokus is a thief. His options are really just attack and parry. His hit points are quite low, so perhaps I should parry this battle, although I hate to lose out on the chance to make an attack.

Itkhovian is my priest. He can't attack, since he's not in the first three ranks, but here are a lot of things he can do, and all of them seem like good options. First, he could cast a healing spell on Crokus and limit the odds that Crokus will get killed this round. Or he could cast MANIFO to try to paralyze one of the three groups. I could also have him cast MONTINO to silence the arch mages, but if I'm more concerned about the fighters perhaps I should have him cast BAMATU to lower my party's armor class. Or I could ask him to cast LATUMAPIC to identify the monsters, but I'll probably identify them automatically next round anyway.

Tattersail is a mage. Almost certainly the best use of her is to cast a spell that damages all members of a group. The question is: what level do I want to cast? MAHALITO does 4-24 damage, LAHALITO 6-36, and MADALTO 8-64. I have fewer of the high level ones, so I don't want to waste them. But I also don't want to cast an underpowered spell and leave a group of six archmages alive to cast the same spells against me.

Feather Witch, finally, is a bishop, meaning that she has both mage and priest spells but at lower levels. Good options for her are KATINO, which attempts to sleep a group, MOGREF, which reduces everyone's armor class, or MORLIS, which makes monsters easier to hit. She can also cast one or two MAHALITOs, so perhaps I should use her for that.

In this case, I decided that the archmages were the top priority, but I'd try to wipe them out with spells. The "men in armor," if high-level, could do some serious damage, but the "men in leather" were probably thieves and low priority. I had Tattersail MADALTO the archmages, told Itkhovian to paralyze the fighters, and had Feather Witch MAHALITO the archmages just in case some survived Tattersail. Gruntle and Karsa attacked the thieves while Crokus parried.

I forgot to take screen shots of the rest of the battle, but basically Itkhovian's paralyze only worked on a couple of the fighters. Crokus, despite his parrying, was killed by the fighters. Tattersail's spell did its trick and killed all of the mages, meaning Feather Witch's spell was wasted--I should have had her heal Crokus instead. In the next two rounds, I finished off the thieves and fighters and headed up to the surface to raise Crokus.

It's not only in battle that tactics come into play. The aftermath of every battle involves an agonizing decision about whether I should try to open the chest or ignore it. On one hand, if I don't open it, I won't get any better equipment (gold isn't a problem any more), but on the other hand, there's a really good chance that my worthless thief will either misidentify or fail to disarm the trap. The possible consequences of this are:

  • Everybody gets poisoned by a gas bomb (requiring, yes, a trip back up to the surface)
  • My entire party gets wiped out by an exploding box trap
  • Crokus, Itkhovian, or Tattersail are taken out of commission by a crossbow bolt, a priest blaster, or a mage blaster, respectively
  • A teleport trap tosses my characters into part of the dungeon I haven't mapped, and therefore don't know the way back to the elevator to the surface (very dangerous; the way back to the surface is a constant lifeline for me)
  • An alarm trap summons more parties of monsters
I've learned not to even try to open chests when my party is weak.

Since I blogged about Wizardry last time, I lost both my main party and my relief party and had to start all over. It's not as bad as it sounds. Mapping took longer than actually playing, and with the maps already done, I just need to build up my character levels. There are a couple of ghosts on level 1 that give a lot of experience while doing very little damage, so I've basically been killing the ghosts over and over while doing other things in the background.

My last party died on Level 9 and I had almost finished mapping it. I actually did touch Level 10--the last level--when I got dumped there by an invisible chute, but a teleporter brought me immediately back up the castle. The lower levels started to introduce a lot of nastiness, including dead-magic zones, pit traps that did serious damage, level-draining monsters, and constant teleporters. For someone who likes mapping as much as I do, teleporters are a constant annoyance.

My plan for now is to carefully build my characters up to level 15, then finish mapping Level 9 of the dungeon and try my luck against Werdna. I'm rotating my characters again, with three complete parties this time, so it will take a while, but if I keep at it all night (read the name of my blog again), I still might be able to win this thing by tomorrow. Wish me luck.


  1. Your description almost makes me want to play this for myself. Almost, but not quite.

    It is pretty amazing to consider the depth of this for the time in which it was released.

  2. I remember my brother and I playing this on the NES when I was a kid... and now I remember why we never even got close to beating it.

  3. the NES version is abit "dumbed down" from the original version.

  4. Do elaborate a bit. "Dumbed down" how?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Late, but I'll elaborate. It wasn't really dumbed down. A few of the skippable dungeon levels (6-8) were changed around and made slightly easier in general to map... and... that's all I can think of. NES changes were pretty minor in general (you have to rest a character to have them recover spell points), the game now has better graphics and music, and due to a major bug, AC is completely useless. That's it as far as actual gameplay (not interface) changes it even keeps the same brutal difficulty and permadeath by saving as soon as a character is killed. (The Super Famicom Wizardry 1+2+3 has basically the NES version with the AC bug fixed, ingame spell and item descriptions, etc, and is probably the best way to play Wizardry today aside from maybe the PS1/SS version of Wizardry 1+2+3.)

  5. Wizardry was my first Apple IIc game, and it had me hooked on RPGs for life. I was about twelve and it was an overwhelming first game. But I learnt every spell in that spellbook. I guess I was a cautious player, I explored carefully and always left before I was too weak or low on spellpower. Teleporting into rock was the biggest risk.

    PS. Trebor sux

  6. And, apparently, you'd better remember that!

  7. Don't know if there are many differences between the MS-DOS and Apple versions, but I'm playing the Apple version and my first reaction to the screenshot above was %?!? 6 ARCH MAGES!! Near the bottom of the dungeon, each arch mage can cast a spell that does up to 30 points of damage to EACH of your party members.

    It seems awfully unfair, especially considering that sometimes the monsters surprise your party. I've had a few TPKs, and I think every single one of them was caused by my party being surprised by monsters that could attack the entire party.

    This promptly wiped out my Mage (who has by far the fewest hit points with 30). And because I didn't have much chance after losing my main artillery, all I could really do was try to run away if there were overwhelming numbers who could cast spells or breathe fire on me the NEXT round. Running away seems to work only about 25% of the time, so it's pretty much a guaranteed TPK for me in those situations.

    I have been keeping my save state, however, so that I don't have to level up everyone again. I don't have your patience! I'm exploring the ninth level right now, and my characters are all Level 11 and Level 12.

  8. I thought the DOS version was the hardest! My own characters were about Level 12 when I ended and while I remember some tough encounters, I don't remember being paralyzed by fear of archmages.

  9. I don't know what version I'm playing, there are instant killing ninjas on 3, I even got decapitated by a highwayman on level 2, but when shit gets bad you can close dosbox, restart the game go to utilities->retrieve an out party and I have control of my full party at the start of the last level I entered. I've only done it a few times, once at level 1 when I was too lazy to reroll, once at low levels when I took on Murphy's Ghosts too soon, and on my first trip to level 3 when I hit a pit trap, cast a dumapic expecting it dropped me to 4, saw I was on level 3, didnt notice it having any other effect and then ran into 3 more before seeing my entire part was dead...woops. You're right, mapping takes far longer than leveling up, which is nice, theres no big exp grind time sink in this game. So far by the time ive mapped each full level I can handl the next levels monsters pretty easily. And the one time I started over (realized i wanted a bishop and that id never get a lord ninja or samurai with my 8 point upgrade chars and that alignment mattered) it didnt take much time spam killing ghosts to get back in fighting shape so I could proceed on the fun stuff that is mapping. I must agree on the paucity of loot, the game coulda done better there. You ever find a way to be able to read the contents of a chest or what monsters hand you? I slowed doxbox down to 200 cycles and it still went by too fast yet the game took forever rendering wire frames so i went back up to 20k and just said f it ill have a nice surprise next time i check all my inventories.

    1. I had the same DOSBox problem.

      Back then, I considered quitting the game and restarting an out party to be cheating, so I patiently accepted the fates of my characters and rolled new ones. I think if I was playing it now, I'd allow myself some limited saves.

  10. When playing Pool of Radiance nowadays, I tend to play it "iron man" style, not reloading save games when characters die. Inevitably, the troll battle at the end of the slums tends to end those games, but it does lend a certain weight to your decisions.

  11. Great post - you bring back so many memories. I loved this game as a kid. Perhaps someone posted this already (I haven't read every comment), but the Apple II version had a glitch or possibly a developer hack that I discovered after beating the game legitimately (pretty sure it was this game and not Knight of Diamonds). IIRC, if you had a bishop try to identify item 9 in his inventory (I think there were just 8 item slots shown), and he succeeded, you received an enormous amount of experience. Then you could just keep gaining levels essentially forever. With maxed out spells and god-like health, the bishop could go into the dungeon by himself without fear of dying. It was a fun novelty that added life to the game after beating it.

  12. Cast a spell to LOWER AC?! Ha, this game is using the old THAC0 rules!

  13. It's the dying that gets you in this game. If you could avoid dying--if you could save before battles and re-load if they went poorly--then I'm convinced you could beat Wizardry in a single long day of playing (I say this without having attempted Level 10 yet).

    With perfect luck, how about... 46 seconds?

    1. Okay, so watching the speedrun, the player was able to trip a teleport trap that brought him to the elevator, where he would have normally needed a token, but how does a Level 1 cleric later cast a MALOR. And how do two Level 1 characters beat Werdna? Is this version of the game just really really easy?

    2. It's a tool-assisted speedrun, which in short that the RNG is manipulated to give exactly the outcome the speedrunner wants, rerecords from save states are allowed, etc, so the speedrunner can, in effect, pick their random numbers and play at superhuman speed. It looks like a bot tried to play the game over 200,000 times to achieve this outcome. The only thing that makes this version easier (I described the NES differences in an above comment) that's used in this run is that it has a mediocre premade party, and one character from it is used (the cleric.)

      So, in short, this is something you could theoretically dowith perfect luck. I'm sure something similar could be done in the DOS version, but the TAS community has only barely started touching DOS games.

      To address your specific questions:
      -The Level 1 Cleric uses a Ring of Movement to cast MALOR, from a random drop. Anyone can use a Ring of Movement, and they exist in the DOS version (although some item names are changed in the NES version. I'm much more familiar with the SNES version, which uses the NES item names.)
      -The Ninja decapitates Werdna, with the Epee of Excellence. Through a combination of being a Ninja at level 1 (tiny chance) and having th Epee of excellence, there's roughly a 2% chance of decapitating *anything* in one hit. (Naturally, you can't particularly count on this in a normal game, but in a TAS it can be manipulated to happen.) The Cleric has a similar 5% chance of dispelling the accompanying vampire and vampire lord.

      Speedrun notes, including exactly what happened:

      General Tool-assisted speedrun info:


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