Monday, June 14, 2010

Wizard's Crown: Ultra-Tactical Combat

An unfortunately common message in my Wizard's Crown adventures

Since I last blogged about Wizard's Crown, I have:

  • Found the marketplace where I can sell goods. This is different than the Town Square, which had me confused.
  • Cleared the town of monsters and got 2 gold pieces a person for my trouble.
  • Received a broadsword +2 as a reward for rescuing the aforementioned girl.
 
What, does everyone know I'm after this crown? Nice punctuation, incidentally.

  • Found a hidden magic shop where some day, when I have way more gold than I do now, I can improve the enchantments on my weapons and armor.
  • Got some hints at a tavern. I need an emerald key to get somewhere. The password to something else is "breakfast." A master thief told me of a thieves' guild in the ruins I ultimately have to explore.
  • Fought a lot of battles for which I got experience. I used this experience to increase my weapon, magic, and thieving skills. Putting a lot of points into karma for my priests turned out to be a good thing because it gave me access to high-level healing spells fairly quickly.
  • Discovered temples scattered about town which immediately recharge your priests' karma. It's handy to use these immediately after battle and heal your characters.
 
I'm still confused about a lot of stuff. For instance, I keep finding bottles and jars and wands after I kill monsters, but they don't seem to have any purpose. The game manual suggests that I can spend experience on increasing statistics but the game never gives me that option (maybe I need a lot more experience than I've been accumulating). My sorcerer never seems to be able to cast a spell successfully no matter how many points I channel into power and spellcasting ability. Every time I leave the inn or camp, the game asks me who I want to put on point and how far away I want them to scout, but for the life of me I can't figure out what this actually does or who I should choose.
 

It wouldn't be so bad if you could set a default.

All of this pales in comparison to my most serious conundrum, though, which is that I don't know what to do from here without dying. Every time I leave the town, I die. I don't mean a single character dies--this is easily fixed with a "raise dead" prayer, which believe it or not I already have. I mean my whole party gets wiped out. But since I cleared the town of monsters, wandering around in town only occasionally offers up a paltry battle in which I get some minimum of experience. I feel kind of stuck.

While I figure this out, let me use this space to talk about the tactical combat system, which is both interesting and confounding. I can only say that I'm glad that they simplified it for the Gold Box games, because there are enough statistics and options in combat to give a migraine to Sun Tzu.

Let's start at the beginning. When you come across a group of monsters in Wizard's Crown, the game asks whether you want to engage in quick combat. If you do this, the game fights your battle for you in seconds, which is nice, but you don't get to use the full variety of spells, items, and actions at your disposal, which is not. The only way to successfully win difficult battles is to do it the long way. Unfortunately, at this stage the game doesn't tell you how many of each monster type you face, so it's tough to gauge whether quick combat is worth the risk.

To be fair, a "thug" really isn't a monster type so much as a profession.

If you choose to eschew "quick combat," the game puts you in to a tactical battle screen. The first step is "placing" your characters--selecting their starting positions. You have a limited space in which to work, but it's easy to set up a defensive wall with your spellcasters and archers protected.

Placing my characters before combat.

Now we come to the first thing I don't understand: why can't I see my enemies? It's not that they're off-screen. Oh, no. As soon as battle starts, they'll be right up against me. I don't know why they get to be hidden until they attack.

After the placement phase, the combat phase begins. There are no less than 20 actions that each of your characters can perform in combat. There are three attacks: a regular (a)ttack, a reckless "attack to (k)ill" that sacrifices defense for offense, and a conservative (d)efensive attack that does the opposite. If you want a sure hit, you can waste an entire round aiming at your (t)arget before exercising an attack the next round, or you can spend your round (z)ig-zagging to avoid being hit entirely.

Gahmuret targets a thug with his bow.

You can (f)all prone if you're facing archers and you want to minimize your chance of getting hit, then stand (e)rect once you engage them in melee combat. If you're an archer, you can (l)oad your bow or crossbow, a sorcerer can (c)ast a spell (although, and this is item #2 I don't understand, they never seem to work) or use a (m)agic item, and a priest can (p)ray to heal companions in combat or turn (u)ndead. Thieves can (s)neak, but I'm not sure what this does because there doesn't seem to be a back stab. There's also a (v)iew command which maybe is my solution to the hidden enemy problem, although it never seems to do anything. If you run into a door on the combat screen, you can (o)pen it. You can waste a turn (r)eadying a different piece of equipment, and finally you can (i)nspect your character or just (q)uit your turn. Understand that all of these various commands apply to each character in each round.

This happens literally every time.

Ah, but that's not all. The game also considers the direction you're facing when calculating the likelihood to hit, how much damage you do, whether you can target a particular enemy, or whether your shield does anything to protect you. Note in the screenshot below how the northeast, east, and southeast are highlighted (the "9" and the "3" correspond to directions on the numeric keypad). This means I can move, attack, and (I think) defend in those directions. If I want to aim or move somewhere else, I first have to use the comma key to turn my character in that direction.

This battle isn't going so badly, but note that Anfortas has a moderate injury (6) and minor bleeding (2), but still has all 25/25 of his life points.

When you strike a hit, or when any enemy strikes a hit against you, the game is very specific about where it does damage and what kind of damage it does. This lends the game an air of realism, but it also introduces a quirk unique to Wizard's Crown: the overall number of hit points that you have is treated separate from your current level of injury. There are two types of injuries: bleeding and...well...just injuries. You can have a serious injury and be knocked unconscious and still have all 25/25 of your hit points. Bizarre.

This does make it more fun to picture the battle.

When battle is over, you get a bit of gold and you can take the items owned by your enemies--usually just basic weapons and armor that you can sell. Occasionally you find bandages, which a party member skill in first aid can used and thus save your priests' karma points.

I have no idea what that vial is about.

Also after combat, you want to check out your party members' statuses. In my case, Feirefiz has a minor injury, Anfortas has both minor and major injuries and minor bleeding, and Sigune has a major injury and minor bleeding. If you leave the camp while your characters are still bleeding, they die, so this is where I have to use my priests' healing power to deal with their injuries. Note again, however, that none of them have suffered a loss of life points.


 
Tactical combat can take up to an hour with enough enemies. This is particularly frustrating because, as I've said, every time I leave the town, all my characters die. Wasting 30 minutes on combat only to lose everyone and have to start over is a bit demoralizing--and not just to me. The longer the combat takes, the more your characters' "morale" score dips, making them less effective at all of their skills. You have to spend a night in a comfy room or spend an evening of revelry at a tavern to eradicate the effects of poor morale and get your characters in fighting strength again. This is another first for Wizard's Crown.

My morale is restored and I got a hint on the side.

I'll echo what I said yesterday: I'm grateful to this game for being an obvious precursor to the Gold Box series, but I can't say I'm loving it. Nonetheless, I'm determined to improve my characters enough to start exploring the ruins and see how they differ from the very constricted game so far. Again, I certainly appreciate any tips or advice from readers who have played this game before!

15 comments:

  1. How high is your spellcasting ability? Especially in consideration that it goes from 1 - 250 (or 255. Can't remember).

    If you've only got 20 or so, then you could consider it a 10% chance or less of success.

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  2. Funnily enough, another blog in my feed:
    http://devgrow.com/top-5-web-based-screencasting-apps/

    Sounds like it covers them :).

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  3. Yeah, my spellcasting skill is only in the 40s. It takes FOREVER to build this up. Some of my fighters have weapon skills over 100 now, but I can't seem to get anywhere with my sorcerer.

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  4. Thanks, Monkey. Screentoaster came back up on Monday, but I'm keeping your link for when we lose it again.

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  5. Fascinating. I remember this game but I never had a chance to play it. I think I'm glad, now, that such was the case!

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  6. No wonder your members keep dying: 25 lifepoints is very low in a world where some weapons can do 16 or more damage ;)

    You can exchange 100 experience points for 1 strenth, 1 dex or 5 life points later on.

    I recommend you start anew, with 'smarter' characters that have only the strength needed for a decent weapon (15 max) and intelligence to do their job (only 5 for a mere fighter). Invest in about 50 lifepoints for your fighters to start with ;)

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  7. As for injuries: bleeding is substracted from lifepoints each time it is that character's turn. Normal bleeding is 1 point per point, serious bleeding is 2 lifepoints per point. You can pray or attempt to heal (with bandages). Note that if healing doesn't work, the bleeding/ injuries will become serious.

    Injuries have little effect except that too much injury makes characters uncounscious.

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  8. Richard, thanks for clearing up the mystery about how many experience points it takes for a stat increase. I was always spending them before I got that high, which explains why I never had the option. I also appreciate the tip on health even though it's unlikely I'll return to the game.

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  9. Also, only keep the +1 vials, bottles, jugs, etc. Those you can upgrade in the NE corner of the inner town wall, the rest are junk unless there is a spell attached to them when you (E)valuate. This is one of my favorite games btw...just take a while to build up your characters but once you get up there, it's much fun. Keep @ it!

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  10. Hey, did anyone discover this bug in the game (dos version)? When you gain XP above 200, then buy skills until your XP drop below 100, then buy statistics (which should be impossible because they cost 100 XP), then you suddenly get XP above 200 again! You can continue to do this until all your skills are maxed and your stats are very high.

    An added benefit is that you immediately start to find lots of cool gear that previously went unidentified.

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    1. Just wanted to add: We accidentally found this out early in the game, when we had the same problem of dying south of the city all the time. We fully went for it, pumped up our characters and started exploring while doing 'quick combats', and selling loot to improve our magical weapons. Great memories, although the number of 'sites of interest' (storywise) is very low: the bar, the thieves guild, the mansion and the castle. Thats it!

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  11. Just want to put my 2 cents in and say i've just rediscovered this game again. i played it way back when and totally loved it.

    to the CRPG addict, i truly hope you have made headway with this game. because it isn't easy,its important to read the online manual so you can make important initial choices regarding tactics and character development.

    it'sa very rewarding game once your characters gain in power.

    Just bought Ultima 7 and X-Com series off e-bay too!
    can't wait to relive my youth :)

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  12. Just found this blog. I loved Wizard's Crown on the Atari, which had better graphics and sound and didn't have many of the old good RPGs (like Wizardry or Might and Magic).

    A comment on the "giving up" review post provides some useful information, but I'm responding here to address some of the questions raised in this post:
    Why couldn't you see enemies? Two possibilities: the game has LOS, so especially if your party gets surprised and attacked from the rear, you can't see foes unless you turn to look. And the game has a day/night cycle. No light source at night means no visibility. (The Light spell is the best way around that problem, which can get crippling and which makes wandering the ruins at night lethal for much of the game.)

    (S)neak allows a character to hide, close to invisibility but not quite as good.

    With a good thief scouting ahead of the party, you reduce the odds of being surprised and increase the odds of surprising foes, but the farther out the thief is the higher the odds she is caught (and the combat starts with the thief in front of the group, often jumped by foes).

    The punishing phase of this game comes after you complete the tavern dungeon in town and maybe the dungeon just outside the back gate. The ruined city is lethal, especially if you leave the first screen out the gate. There's several solutions, but they boil down to grinding:
    1. At night in the city, undead stalk the graveyard. Your clerics can turn or destroy them pretty effectively. That makes the graveyard a decent place to grind for XP.
    2. Outside the main gate on the road, you can trigger some human-type encounters with equipment that sells for a goodly amount, as well as getting XP. Adventurers sometimes have magic; magic weapons are vital to the mid-game and end-game, especially as your sorcerer(s) don't come into their own until end-game.
    3. Once you can survive the ruin screen by the gate and learn the magic word to take shelter in the old temples, there's several hills just south of the first screen where more powerful undead will spawn (especially at night). Again, the ability to turn or destroy undead greatly reduces the threat of these combats. Over time, you can "clear" screens in the ruins and drastically reduce the frequency of combats.
    4. There's some places outside the old ruin walls where really high-level adventurers appear, challenges even to those who completed the final dungeon. They generate interesting combats in part because their equipment will be as good or better than your own. A risky fight or two against these groups can drastically reduce the end-game difficulty by getting you powerful magic weapons.

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    1. Thanks, David. There's a small but non-zero probability that I might take another look at the game in the future, at which point these comments will be very helpful.

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