Monday, January 9, 2012

Wizardry V: Sub-Contracting

My party gets damaged by an oddly-out-of-place Japanese warrior.

A few weeks ago, commenter Jay said that Wizardry V has "as much game time as Skyrim does." When I read his comment, I thought, "Sure. If you're a n00b." Well, now I owe Jay an apology. If anything, he understated. Wizardry V is killing me.

The game does not feel as if it's notably more difficult, in terms of the encounters, than Wizardry I. The difficulty, rather, comes in the size of the game. Each of the levels is at least twice as big as the ones in the first game. Here's Level 3:

I can't color in all of the areas until I'm sure there isn't some kind of transport from a lower level. Also, there's a door I can't open yet that, for all I know, fills in the entire remaining part of the lower half of the map.

The levels are not only large but irregular. Level 3 is at least somewhat square, even if a lot of the space in the upper right and left corners isn't used. Level 4, on the other hand, proved to be extremely long and narrow, although I still haven't explored one stairway there from Level 5 (which I've also partly mapped), so for all I know the part I've mapped is only a small part of the level:

At 47x7, even this section of the level is 46% larger than any level in the first game.

I still find a certain amount of joy in mapping. In these old tile-based games, where there are only a certain number of squares, every square you map is incremental progress towards the end of the game. Even if you could map modern games this way, you wouldn't have the same surety that you were advancing slowly but surely towards the conclusion, as modern games re-use areas frequently. When I played Dragon Age: Origins with my wife, I honestly had no sense of how much longer the game was going to last. When the darkspawn army started attacking Denerim, I figured that was the conclusion, but you never know--the dragon might have flown away to some darkspawn HQ that opened up a brand new set of maps.

Anyway, it's not so much the size of the maps in Wizardry V that makes the game take a long time. I haven't gotten all the way to Level 10 yet, but I'd be willing to bet that, just like the first game, the literal distance between the dungeon entrance and the final square--owing to elevators and portals and such--is less than 100 steps. If you had a party with a high-enough level, I'll bet you could finish it in less than an hour--something that would be impossible with Skyrim. The difficulty comes from the sheer risk associated with exploration. In a permanent-death game, you put your party in peril with every step that you take, and when the levels are more than double the size of Wizardry, that's a lot more chances to run into a party of monsters that kills you. I lost three members of my Christmas-themed party to failed resurrections, including my mage, and I began to dread the prospect of grinding up new ones again.

So when my wife, who has this week off--a week that I'm away on business--announced her intention to do nothing, aside from her daily treadmill session, but sit on the couch and re-watch all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I hit upon an idea.

"How about you do a little light work for me on your laptop while you're watching TV?" I asked.


"Come on. You owe me a favor." This, strictly speaking, wasn't true. But I'm absent-minded enough that it's possible she owed me a favor and I just forgot. The look she gave me told me that not only was I wrong, but that even suggesting such a thing after putting up with my Skyrim epoch was pushing things too far.

So I pulled out my nuclear option, which I'll tell you about at the end of the posting. She listened, asked a lot of questions, and finally agreed, with one annoying condition: the party had to be good.

"It really doesn't make any difference. It's not like Dragon Age--you don't really make any choices that...." I stopped because I could see I was getting nowhere.

We installed the game on her laptop and spent some time side-by-side rolling up a new party. This took a lot less time with double the computing power, and she seemed to have a lot more luck on the high bonus rolls than I did. She even got a lord. I spent some time getting them up to Level 8 or so while showing her the basics of the game.

The new party.

And so, for the next week, while I'm attending a conference in Los Angeles, she'll be sitting on the couch, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and grinding my party away. I honestly don't know if she'll be fanatical about it, and I'll come home to Level 40 characters, or if she'll just get them up to the level of the three characters I just ditched, which was around 13.

Her task is easy. There's a portal on Level 1 that takes you to an area of Level 2 where you can get an elevator to Levels 3, 4, and 5. I made her memorize the way and gave her the following set of instructions:

1. The moment you get to Level 2, cast LOMILWA (light), LITOFEIT (float so as to avoid traps), and MAPORFIC (protection, which the priest doesn't have yet but should before long).

2. Stand just outside the portal on Level 2. Spin in place and let the monsters come to you. Concentrate your attacks and use mass-damage spells (she has a list, including those she should expect to get later) on any groups of 3 or more.

3. At any point that you run out of damage spells, have less than half your healing spells, the party has less than half its hit points, or any character is afraid, paralyzed, or poisoned, immediately go back into the portal and return to the surface and heal everyone.

4. When you're able to win at least 15 combats before returning to the surface, take the elevator to Level 3 and do the same thing--spin in place right next to the elevator, fight, follow the same rules, and jump back into the elevator if you encounter problems. Once you can win 15 combats in a row there, go to Level 4. She's not to proceed any further than Level 4, though--there are some enemies on Level 5 that can kill even high-level characters in one hit.

To help with the combat and healing, I left her the items and gold from my previous party. I don't think that's cheating, since the game seems to encourage you to swap party members in and out--the key unit of gameplay is the "scenario," not the specific party. I told her just to drop any new items--I figure her chances of finding anything better than the party already has (the previous party had been to Level 5) is low. If she messes up and loses anyone, I still have three characters from the old party alive. We'll have a Buffy/Christmas Story crossover.

So what did I have to promise? Here it is: Irene's mother died of breast cancer three years ago, and for the past two years, she's done the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. She has to raise $1,600 by April, and with few family members left and mostly-poor co-workers, she finds it difficult. I told her I would raise the money for her. In a few days, I'll be posting a link in the sidebar of my blog, and if you're feeling charitable, you can contribute to cancer research in the name of the mother of the woman whose tolerance makes this blog possible. (Please, no pressure, though: I have other ways to raise the money, too.)

While she does my level-grinding for me, in California, I'll be exploring dnd and making my revisit to The Bard's Tale III. When I get back next weekend, I'll try to finish up Wizardry V with my newly-buff party. 


  1. Sometimes, I find your blog itself more interesting from a role playing standpoint than the games you play :-)

    Nicely done.

  2. wow, what a wife. that is just amazing. I don't think mine would even be interested enough to show her the game, much less level grind for me!


  3. Awesome. Will be donating a few eurobucks before April.


  4. My wife has a hard time playing Super Mario Brothers, the fact that your has the gumption to grind your Wiz characters for you is completely unbelievable to me. Incredible power play you pulled there.

  5. Best.Wife.Ever! I also have a cRPG afficionado girlfriend but there is no way in hell to get her to level-grind for me! I bow to your master level speechcraft ;-) You do know that there's a whole clandestine MMORPG industry in Asia where teenagers and students are slaving away 24/7 for a few measly bucks to level-up characters of rich American customers? Your wife definitely got a better deal out of this though, on a more serious note. I love how Wizardry is kicking your behind and how you still persevere. You sir, are definitely hardcore. How about an addition to the cRPG dictionary: level-grinding masochism? Finding pleasure in the pain of (meaningless) repetition....

  6. Definitely count me in to throw a few bucks your way. This blog is worth a regular subscription fee, a voluntary donation is a no-brainer.

  7. I am impressed. I have enough trouble as it is to convince my girlfriend to play games at all in my age, let alone old CRPG titles with ugly, outdated graphics.

    Saintus from

  8. I'll be donating. It's the least I can do since I so immensely enjoy this blog.

  9. My wife is very understanding of my video game habits - but hardly ever participates in them. RPG's would definitely be a 'no' - but a great post to read, so thank you for sharing it!

  10. By all accounts, you are a god among mortals. Throwing away all my marriage books and implementing this blog post starting ... now! : P

  11. Is it me, or does the woman next to the samurai look a lot like... La Blue Girl?

  12. Didn't pay much attention to the screenie at first, but I don't get why he's throwing away his mojitos. I'll take one!

  13. I've been reading your archives and realize you're a bit like Neo at the end of The Matrix - you can see the underlying design of these old games and methodically crush them. Back when I played them I sort of lived in the game with little thought of beating them as efficiently as possible. So I was interested if my boast held up to a rpg machine destroyer such as yourself.

    Glad to see Wizardry V can still make grown men weep.

  14. It sounds to me like you already have the perfect character right in front of you Chet. A wife that plays role playing games, will grind characters (for a price of course), and enjoys watching scifi/fantasy tv shows obsessively.

    I think I'll write a blog about my future quest to get my wife to grind out some characters for me in Wizardry V. It would definitely involve lots of drama, comedy and battle scenes, but no gaming. ;)

  15. I think the very definition of "Not A Fun Game" would be:

    "Honey, will you spin in circles for hours and hours on end, fighting and healing as need be, so that when I come back, these characters might FINALLY be tough enough to survive the rest of the game?"

    Of course, this might explain why I never play any MMORPGs... :)

  16. Thanks for your comments, everyone, and sorry I didn't get back here sooner. As you'll see from my follow-up, it didn't really work out like I'd hoped. But she still did her best, and I agree that makes her pretty cool. You've spoiled her with your comments, though. I'm not going to be hearing the end of this real soon.

    Jay, I don't particularly WANT to play like that, but when you have a list of 1000 games ahead of you, you tend to go for efficiency.

  17. Just to let you know, every Wizardry game came with a Backup feature in the utilities. I know some people have mentioned the 'Recovery' feature which was well abused by everyone to keep their characters safe. But the backup feature was intended as a save state on a separate disk. Wizardry was not intended to be Iron Mannned. Man'd? Anyway. You know. For next time.

  18. Strange, I don't see the Donate button anywhere...

    1. I never figured out a way to do it in which 1) my anonymity would be preserved; and 2) you'd be sure you were donating to a legitimate site.


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