Sunday, June 13, 2010

Game 17: Wizard's Crown (1985)

This may be the least attractive opening screen of any game yet, but it speaks to the game's emphasis on tactics and statistics.


I had never heard of SSI's Wizard's Crown before starting this blog, and I never played it until today. Just looking through the manual, I can see its influence on the later D&D "Gold Box" games, so I'm grateful for this opportunity to play it, but damn is it confusing.

Let's start with the basics. Wizard's Crown was originally released for DOS and had Apple II, Atari, and Commodore 64 ports a year later. (Its sequel, the Eternal Dagger, was ONLY released on these other systems, so I won't be playing it.) This means that Wizard's Crown is the first game in my project that I'm playing in its original platform.

The basic plot of the game seems simple: once upon a time the (unnamed) land was governed by a Fellowship of Wizards who ruled justly from the beautiful city of Arghan. These wizards took turns wearing the Crown of the Emperor, a magical artifact that gave "power and reason." Then one day a wizard named Tarmon refused to give up the crown at his appointed time, prompting a civil war during which Arghan was destroyed and hosts of monsters were raised. Tarmon sequestered himself in his laboratories.

500 years later, Arghan is still infested with monsters and sealed off from the world by a magic barrier. But the wizard Kaltar has raised a party of eight adventurers to venture into the city and retrieve the Crown so that a new age of peace might dawn.

The game starts you with a pre-created party of eight adventurers, but of course I immediately dumped them to create my own. I almost wish I hadn't. Maybe by typing it out I can work through some of my confusion. Here's what's clear:

  • There are five available character classes: fighter, ranger, thief, priest, and sorcerer. You can have multi-class characters.
  • Each character has five attributes: strength, dexterity, intelligence, life (hit points), and experience.
  • Each character has a ranking in any number of skills, including combat skills (sword, bow, close combat), magic skills (karma for priests, power for sorcerers), thief skills (search, disarm, pick lock, haggling), healing skills (treat poison, treat disease, first aid), ranger skills (stealth, hunt, track), and miscellaneous skills (swimming, haggling, alchemy). There are 30 skills total. Their initial value depends on your attributes, but they can be increased by spending your experience points.
  • When you create a character, you set your attributes first by spending a pool of 25 points. The level to which you set your intelligence determines what type of class you can choose. For instance, a thief needs only 3 intelligence points but a sorcerer needs 11. If you want to have a multi-class thief/sorcerer, you need 14 points.

Character creation.

Here's what I'm confused about:

  • Is it better to go with single-class characters or multi-class characters? What mix works best? The manual suggests that "most party members should be fighters; only 1 or 2 should be non-fighters." I assume they mean multi-classed fighters, because this otherwise contradicts with its advice to "have at least one character of each profession." The manual also insists that you have a ranger-priest but doesn't say why.
  • Is there any advantage to increasing intelligence above the point at which you get the character class you want? The manual unhelpfully notes that "since intelligence does influence other factors, it just might be worth purchasing more sometimes." What other factors?
  • The game lets you buy experience right off the bat, which you can then use to increase your skills. Is it better to use the points to increase your attributes, or your skills? Do you have the option to increase them both later with acquired experience, or am I setting my permanent attribute levels at this point?

This is just what I'm confused about when it comes to character creation. I can barely understand a word of the combat instructions. I guess there's only one thing to do: make my party as best I can and go out and experiment. I've decided to channel my initial allocation of points into attributes and only buy as much intelligence as I need for the classes I want. I'm going with:

  • One pure fighter
  • Two fighter/sorcerers
  • Two fighter/priests
  • One ranger/priest
  • One thief
  • One sorcerer

Feirefiz is my pure fighter.

During the character creation process, you select the icon that represents your character in the game. These are quite similar to the later SSI D&D games, although without the color customization choices.

This is the first game that lets you choose what your character looks like.


The game starts you off with a weapon of your choice (for fighters) or with a dagger (everyone else). Everyone gets brigantine armor.

The world outside the inn.


Having made my characters, I wandered out into the game world and within moments came across a woman fleeing from a couple of thugs. I chose to intervene and engage in quick combat rather than try to figure out the game's bedazzling combat options this early.

The first quest!

My characters dispatched the thugs and took a fair amount of injury themselves. One of my characters, the fighter/priest Condwiramurs, was bleeding, and the game warned me if I left the combat options screen without healing her, she would be destroyed. Unfortunately, nothing I could think to do would work. We found some bandages during combat, but even though I gave them to someone who was skilled at first aid, the game insisted I didn't have any bandages. I tried to (P)ray for healing but the game insisted none of my priests could pray--it may have had something to do with a morale loss greater than their karma levels. I don't know. There's a lot of stuff to keep track of in this game. Anyway, end result: Condwiramurs died and I had to return to the inn to replace her with another fighter/priest of the same name.

The quick combat screen.

I continued my wanderings and entered the nearby town, where I found training grounds (it looks like you can increase your skills with money irrespective of experience), a temple, and an armory. An old man in a park told me a story about an adventurer who made money cleaning up the city. A group of thieves attacked me but I beat them and this time praying for healing worked. After the combat, I have some items to sell, but the armory didn't seem to have a place to sell them, just to buy them. The manual says that items are sold in the town's marketplace, but every time I search in that area, the game just tells me townsfolk are wandering about.

In short, Wizard's Crown has a fairly steep learning curve. Before my next posting, I'll try detailed combat and see how that goes. In the meantime, since my rules forbid me to look at any walkthroughs, I'd appreciate any tips from people who have played the game.

8 comments:

  1. To me its more a wargame than a crpg. Didnt like it at all, I mean I LOOOVE the early gold box games (Azure Bonds and Pool of Radiance, Champions of Krynn), which has an enhanced version of the combat engine (well you can clearly see where it came from in the GB games).. but it always felt more a wargame than a crpg to me...

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  2. (Hate it when the missus leaves her accounts logged in. Now have to retype so it appears under my name).

    Long ago I played this. So, memory is a little fuzzy, however what I do recall is that Intelligence is used to 'buy' classes. Thus, if you want a sorceror and you spend the 11 points, the sorceror gains no further benefit from more intelligence unless you plan on multiclassing.

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  3. Also, is it just me, or is this the first game (or one of the first) to let you choose the difficulty?

    Must have meant a helluva lot coding back then to make 5 difficulty levels...

    Also, right from the start a quest with two possible solutions (help or ignore?)? Smooth enough!

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  4. Deadly, I think you're right. I can't think of another game so far that had a difficulty selector. There are a lot of things about Wizard's Crown that are ahead of its time: the variety of skills, the variety of weapons and armor and items, the gazillion options in combat, the separation of health and injury... I think what I'm finding, though, is that an innovative game is not necessarily a fun game. Too early to make a final judgment on that, though.

    I do wish the Gold Box games had a "quick combat" option, though. As much as I like the tactics of combat in those games, wandering into groups of 20 kobolds got pretty stale at Level 10.

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  5. Well GB games did have a 'quick' combat, you just had to watch it, and let the computer fight for you. Mostly if you did this you had to leave magic off (alt-m) so it didnt waste all your spells.. Its quick combat was really dumb, but it was also the same AI that was used against you so it was fairly easy to work out good strategy...

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  6. Quick Combat in the goldbox series might as well not have been in there *shudders*. Only ever tried it on the most menial random encounters and nearly always resulted in a reload followed by fighting manually. Two characters dead in quick combat was typically a best case scenario.

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  7. So, did you ever finish WC? I spent many, many long nights in my mid-teen years playing this in my room on my C64 (instead of doing homework, shame on me). I don't recall having finished it (at least not that I remember).

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    Replies
    1. I did not. I think I might revisit it when 1985 comes around on my list again.

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