Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Might & Magic II: Magic

Uck. I'm never eating anything in a CRPG again.

I'm going to do something a bit odd here. I'm in the last dungeon of the game (I actually got all the way to an end but got screwed up by a cryptogram, of all things), but I'm going to save the recap of what I did to get here for the "Won!" posting later. Instead, I want to take some time to review something I've only glossed over in previous postings: the game's extensive magic system.

The Might & Magic series has one of the more detailed magic systems of this era. While it does not have as many spells as The Bard's Tale III, nor the same creativity in spellcasting as Dungeon Master or Ultima IV, nor the same tactical intensity as Wizardry, the game does strike a nice balance among all of these favorable attributes.

The basic facts about the Might & Magic II spell system are these:

  • There are 96 spells in the game--48 cleric spells and 48 sorcerer spells--organized into nine levels. Clerics and sorcerers gain one spell level for every two character levels; they have the full set by Level 17.
  • Archers gain sorcerer spells starting at level 5, and paladins gain cleric spells starting at the same level. Both classes can only go to spell level 7.
  • Some spells are awarded immediately upon achieving the spell level. Others have to be bought in temples or magic guilds, and still others must be found. Late in the game, I found a wizard who sold me all available spells for 2 million gold.

Defeating the Mist Warrior nets you one of the most useful spells in the game.

  • Each spellcaster has a number of spell points dependent upon his or her prime attribute: intelligence for sorcerers and archers, personality for clerics and paladins. There are fountains in the game that can temporarily raise the spell point maximum. Resting recovers all spell points.
  • Some spells have a fixed cost; others have a spell point cost dependent on the character level (these typically do more damage).
  • Some spells require only spell points; others require gems. Gems are plentiful throughout the game. If the game had made it more difficult to find them, it might have led to some more strategy as the player tries to conserve them, but I was never in danger of running out.

Towards the end of the game, my sorcerer had a maximum of 440 spell points and had a comfortable 1,224 gems.

  • Most monsters have some type of spell resistance or immunity. Some are immune to all spells.
  • Some monsters drain your spell points. Phase Spirits and Coffin Creeps can drain all characters' spell points in a single attack. With Phase Spirits, this is particularly bad news because they cannot be hit by melee weapons and they are immune to most (all?) damage spells. I honestly don't know how you defeat Phase Spirits if you don't manage to kill them all in the first round.
  • You find many objects in the game that take the place of spells. For instance, the Ray Gun, in addition to raising your accuracy, casts Energy Blast. A Witch's Broom casts Fly, and a Super Flare casts Lasting Light. All characters can use objects. I loaded up my robber with Storm Wands so he could cast Lightning Bolt round after round.

The Lich's Hand casts spell 5-2: Finger of Death.

96 spells is a lot to keep track of, and looking over my usage, I think that I could have gotten through the game with only 9 spells: the cleric spells of Power Cure, Moon Ray, Raise Dead, and Town Portal; and the sorcerer spells of Lloyd's Beacon, Fly, Lightning Bolt, Teleport, and Dancing Sword. These probably account for 80% of my spell usage. The rest fall into one of nine categories:

1. Spells that cure conditions you rarely experience. These include Awaken, Cure Poison, Cure Disease, Restore Alignment, Uncurse Item, and Remove Condition. I think that during the game I was poisoned maybe once, I never suffered a disease, and I never came across a cursed item. My alignment never slipped. Remove Condition came in handy for a couple of paralysis fixes, but nothing beyond that. There's a spell called Shelter that supposedly prevents you from being attacked while you rest, but I was never once attacked while resting.

2. Spells that never work. Top contenders are Apparition, Silence, Sleep, Web, Finger of Death, Feeble Mind, and (for me) Turn Undead. The failure rate on these is so high that it's hardly worth wasting a round to cast them.

Finger of Death fails again.

3. Spells that are useless after Level 3. The sorcerer spells of Flame Arrow, Electric Arrow, and Acid Spray, and the cleric spells First Aid, Cure Wounds, and Pain. These are useful in the beginning stages when you need to damage low-level creatures or heal a few hit points, but they soon fade to the back of your mind like cantrips you learned as an apprentice. Similarly, Location is only valuable until you have a character with the cartographer skill.

4. Spells that make me suspicious of their effects. There are a host of spells that sound like they do good things, but that don't show any visible effects so you have to discern them from the amount of damage you do or take. I'm talking about Bless, Heroism, Shield, Weaken, Holy Bonus, and Invisibility. These sound like spells I should cast to gain a combat advantage, but I'd rather save my round for things that I know work.

5. Spells that duplicate what the temples do for you. The protection level offered by Protection from Magic and Protection from Elements depends on the level of the caster. As I finished the game, I had only just reached the level in which my casting those spells gave me more protection that if I went to a temple and kept donating 100 gold until they cast the spell for me. The temple blessing also gets you Walk on Water, Guard Dog, Eagle Eye, Wizard Eye, Lasting Light, and Levitate. Since I always got a blessing before venturing out, I rarely had to cast these spells. (Wizard Eye, oddly, takes a ridiculous number of spell points--almost 1/3 of the characters' total.)

Temple blessings give you the full complement of protection spells you see to the right.

6. Spells that come with too high a cost or risk. Resurrection heals eradication but at a cost of 1 endurance point to the raised character, 5 years of age to the raised character, and 1 year of age to the caster. Better to take the character to a temple. Divine Intervention ages the caster 5 years. Rejuvenate backfires and ages the character as often as it works. Duplication, Recharge Item, and Enchant Item might end up destroying the item. None of them were worth the risk to me.

7. Mystifying spells. This category deserves its own sub-bullet list, because I could never figure any of these out.

  • Entrapment: "Surrounds the battle with a magical energy field preventing all from escaping." The problem is that enemies don't try to escape unless they're ridiculously overmatched, in which case the experience reward you get from killing them is negligible.
  • Prismatic Light: "A powerful but erratic spell that has completely unpredictable effects." All this spell does is randomly choose some other group-effect spell to cast, like Sleep or Paralyze. Why would you cast Prismatic Light instead of just targeting them with a specific spell you know will work?
  • Nature's Gate: A spell that just teleports you from one outside location to another one, seemingly at random. One level later, you have Fly and can go exactly where you want. I think it's only useful on the one day you can get the Starburst spell with it.
  • Air/Earth/Fire/Water Transmutation. The spellbook suggests that you need to cast these spells to explore the elemental planes, but I never did and I was able to explore just fine.

8. Spells that only work on one creature. At higher levels, targeting a single creature always seems to be a bad use of spell points. Most individual creatures that you're really keen to kill have spell resistances anyway. I never used any of the Encasement spells, for instance.

9. Overpowered spells. I hardly ever used a large selection of higher-level damage spells: Fiery Flail, Mass Distortion, Implosion, Inferno, Star Burst, Mega Volts, Incinerate, and Meteor Shower. A lot of them only work outdoors, and by the time you're high enough level to get these spells, you can handle almost any outdoor enemy with melee attacks and castings of Moon Ray (simultaneously heals the party and damages enemies) every round. Others only work on a single creature, with the same problem as above. Sorcerers already have a spell called Energy Blast which scales with the level and seems to do almost as much damage (when it works). Mostly, it comes down to the lack of a need to be very tactical in combat (which I covered in a March posting); once you get a selection of spells and combat tactics that generally work, it doesn't pay to get creative.

Meteor-showering some goblins just for fun.

There are a handful of spells that are occasionally useful for specific purposes: Surface to get out of a dungeon; Create Food in case you forgot to buy some; Identify Monster to see how many hit points your foe has; Jump to get over a trap; Time Distortion to escape combat; Etherealize to get through a wall; Holy Word to kill all undead; and so on. If the nine spells listed above make up 80% of my casting, these addition spells account for another 15%. What do you think: is this common among CRPG players? I'll bet 75% of the wizard spells I cast in Baldur's Gate are Fireball, Magic Missile, and different levels of monster summoning. What I can't decide is if this is just laziness or if the games really are unbalanced towards certain spells.

One thing is certain: Without the large selection of navigation spells, including Fly, Town Portal, and Lloyd's Beacon, gameplay in the later stages of Might & Magic II would be somewhat excruciating.

One final note: the names of these spells, and their effects, remains unchanged throughout most of the Might & Magic series. Almost all of them appear in VI-VIII, although separated into categories. In those games, I found Starburst and Meteor Shower a lot more handy.

We've been on this game long enough, wouldn't you say? Time for the winning posting.


  1. I think I had useless spells in all my CRPGs and most often resorted to a few that really worked well. A few ideas on things would explain this :

    - Personal playing style. I for example often use (especially in MM series) magic for the logistics such as teleport/food/wizard eye/cure/protection and let the melee chars deal damage, as it's more SP effective, unless of course you have an immune do normal damage monster. Or I prefer permanent buffs to activated abilities, for example in Dragon Age I always went for the passive abilities in the skills trees.

    - Bad balance/lack of playtesting. This is most true of old CRPGs of course, but there are still a hostful of spells in recent things like Oblivion which seemed like a total waste of time and energy to achieve an effect so little or so more efficiently obtained in a different way.

    - A need for variety to "sell" the game. Ho, behold, the sequel has 25% more spells (even if you won't use them)!

    - A "skill testers" phenomenon. Good & useful spells need bad spells alongside them to make them shine, and part of learning (and succeeding in) an CRPG would be to correctly find out and understand which are the good spells and which are the useless ones.

    A last note, to keep for the future : buffing spells are almost absolutely needed in future MM series, especially things like Power Shield. Keep this in mind.

  2. Nature's Gate, as you earlier surmised, gets you to that spot in the dead zone where you can learn Meteor Shower--but only when cast on Nature's Day. And while enchanting an item once may not be all that worth it--in my younger days, I was known to enchant many items up to +255 (and then duplicate it!). Yes, I know, I'm a dork. Thanks. Did you ever get the big bonus is the dragon cave? Glad to see you're back.

  3. Georges, your "skill testers" option seems sensible to me. I did a lot of experimentation with spells towards the beginning of the game, and it was only through that experimentation that I found the handful I felt were really useful.

    Aelfric, I imagine that to enchant an item up to +255, you'd have to save and reload a lot, and that's against my rules. I used enchant a few times when I already had, say, a Fire Spear +12 and I found a Fire Spear +11. I'd see if I could enchant it twice to get me a +13 and, if so, see if I could enchant the +12 to get a +14, and so on. But the enchant failed for me about 1/3 to 1/4 of the time, so I didn't ever get very far.

  4. "is this common among CRPG players?"

    Yes, I think so. At least I know I do it. What would be interesting to know is if/how the particular spells of choice differ by player (as Georges mentioned). I don't recall what my favorite M&M spells were, but Bard's Tale consisted mostly of YMCA, MIBL, REST and the occasional APAR.

    1. Add WIDR and you have my 99% used list...

  5. I'd like to meet the poor sap who chose "Infravision" as an early spell for a mage in Baldur's Gate. Bonus points if their character was a half-elf, elf, or some other race with natural infravision.

  6. CRPG Addict--Hrmmm. This must be one of those places where the genesis port differed. I never saved that often, as enchanting very rarely failed me. What level are you? Did you abuse the cuisinarts for experience and items?

  7. Tristan: I know. You can just picture some n00b saying, "Infravision! That sounds cool! I'll be able to see in the dark!"

    Aelfric, I tried not to go to the Cuisinarts too often, because it seemed to take a lot of challenge away (more on that tonight). I was around Level 22 when I tried to do the bulk of my enchanting, so perhaps I should have given it another go at a higher level.

    I think the larger point is that I didn't really need the enchantments. I won the game handily at Level 40 without any buffed equipment or the dragon cave hit point bonus.

  8. A couple of things. Nature's Gate doesn't teleport at random - it teleports to a different place every day, but the destinations are preset. Of course since everyone finishes the game within a year the spell's not terribly useful, except if you want to get Starburst the "proper" way.

    As for the Transmutation spells, I remember a "You are not of this element. Begone!" message if you try to get into the elemental planes without it. Unless this only happens in some versions of the game.

  9. I stand corrected, Ziad. But it would be pretty lame to try "Nature's Gate" every day and carefully note where it lands you, so practically speaking, it's random!

    I never got that message, but it appeared in Schultz's walkthrough. Maybe the DOS version just assumes that if you HAVE the spell, you've cast it.

    1. There is a tip in the game--although I don't recall where off the top of my head--that says "Nature's Day is Day XX" (I think it's Day 93, going from memory). It's not unreasonable to have someone piece together casting Nature's Gate on Nature's Day, and giving them a pretty nice reward for solving that side quest.

    2. Fair enough. I don't remember that, but it is a decent enough clue if it's there.

  10. The thing with magic in CRPGs is that a lot of the time, doing anything fancy just doesn't seem worth the trouble. To use Baldur's Gate series as an example, I spent most of my Cleric's spell slots for healing spells, yet the consensus among powergamers is that's pretty much the least useful thing you can do with a Cleric's spell slots. You can get health from potions and rings of regeneration, while you can get a wide variety of massive combat bonuses, one-shot shutdown effects, disposable tanks etc. if you use the spell slots intelligently.

    But the thing is, there never seemed to be much reason to. Practically any fight could be solved by just reloading enough times and bashing my head against it, again and again, so why bother?

    In order to successfully encourage creative tactics, the fight shouldn't be just somewhat tougher without them - it should be impossible. like the fight against the nasty demon at the end of BG: Tales of the Sword Coast - it's practically speaking no even possible, even at max level and with all the best gear, unless you prepare carefully for it.

  11. "Practically any fight could be solved by just reloading enough times and bashing my head against it." This is precisely why I limit my saves in most games, forcing myself to restore from the last autosave rather than saving before every battle.

  12. Power gamers are also a strange breed and there tactics are not for us mortals. I did wince to see someone using his wizard as an attack caster in BG, as that is the intuitive thing to do, but also one of the least effective, doubly so at low levels.

  13. "I honestly don't know how you defeat Phase Spirits if you don't manage to kill them all in the first round."

    Phase Spirits is why having a Cleric with high Speed is important. The only sure way to kill them is Holy Word. They are immune to Fire, Ice and Electricity, but Dancing Sword works. Sadly not even when both my lvl 25 Archer and ditto Sorceror cast it did they do enough damage to kill them. Energy Blast also works, so you can use Ray Guns to kill them once your spell points are gone.

    Some comments on spells:

    I found that Sleep is only effective on low level creatues.

    Web, Hold and Paralyze can be effective against low to mid level humanoids, but are useless against animals or fable creatures.

    I use spells like Bless, Holy Bonus, Shield, Invisibility and Power Shield, but frankly I don't notice much difference. Power Shield is supposed to halve damge from _any_ attack, not just physical. Hero definitely works, but is most effective on a fighter who will gain an extra attack due to his extra levels.

    I never got Enchant Item to work.

    Entrapment would have been nice for me against the Queen Beetle, as she ran away from me, even though I was only about lvl 26.
    Revisiting the map did not bring her back.

    Prismatic Light can be nice since it only uses 7 SP. Sometimes it kills 10 enemies outright.

    Finger of Death is useless as long as you have Disintegrate. Disintegrate can be extremely useful against monster with lots of HP, and is also a cheap way to kill mid level monster quickly without spenind too much mana.
    In a recent battle I faced some low level creatues and 80(!) Rocs. Now Rocs are mean creatures that will slice up your party quickly if given a chance. So I cast Sleep and Hold on the low level creatures, so that only two Rocs could attack each round and my Sorceror and Archer killed 6 Rocs each round thanks to Disintegrate. Disintegrate sometimes even instantly kills Golems and Armoured Dragons, so it's one of my favourite spells.

    Implosion and Fiery Flail can also be useful, since they often kill an enemy outright at a small price.
    And Mass Distortion can also be very useful against monster with 500+ HP.

    Mega Volts and Inferno are generally useless since most high level creatures are resistant to Electricity and Fire, while Dancing Sword I think is a combo of magic and physical and has a much greater chance of doing damage.

  14. I really appreciate all your follow-up comments on this game. I never get a chance to explore all of a game's features, and it's nice to get supplemental info from my readers.

  15. I'd say that this is an issue with RPGs in general, particularly when you have ones that require you to memorize spells ahead of time. The rest of the party's probably going to be pretty upset if your mage uses that spell slot for Comprehend Languages instead of Magic Missile....

    (D&D 4th ed. reflects this in its comparatively limited spell lists, getting narrowed down to what players are actually likely to use.)

    CRPGs face a special problem in that they don't have the flexibility of a real-world game--creativity is rarely possible unless it's forced (e.g. in the Infocom games). Grease can be a great spell in a live game; not so much on a computer.

    (Just found the blog a month ago or so--great read so far! Thanks for doing this!)

    1. Make that 'narrowed down to what they will use IN COMBAT' --It is rather lacking for those of us who play role-play and problem solving heavy games.

    2. I liked that in the 3rd edition D&D rules, clerics could "convert" memorized spells to healing spells, making it more sensible to not just memorize "cure light wounds," "cure moderate wounds," etc. I wish they'd given a similar ability for mages to convert any memorized spell into raw energy (i.e., magic missile).

    3. Ditto the spontaneous casting! This is why I enjoy IWD2, in fact.

      If I were ever designing a magic system, I would completely overhaul the specialist mage system currently in place. It's more like choosing an anti-class than a class, as implemented in BG (and D&D in general).

      Instead, I would make it so your mage can spontaneously change to any spell of that specialty (perhaps 1 level lower to better balance it), but couldn't learn about half of the spells in the game...so there are always some big spells you are giving up. That makes it more like someone who specializes in a certain school so much it is their bread-and-butter, but the extra 10% of knowledge in that specialty forces them to ignore a basic level of knowledge in 50% of the other schools....much like real life...that PhD lets you get a little deeper for a lot of work, and a lot of very focused study, which takes a lot of time and dedication.

      (Yes, I am going through M&M2 again...played this game when I was young, and love it!)

    4. You should have a look at what Pathfinder has done with customization, it now adds a lot more then just spell restrictions, with special abilities and such. Sorcerer specializations aren't even school based, they are bloodline based.


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