Saturday, February 5, 2022

WarWizard: $15,000 Pyramid

Strolling between two sphinxes on my way to fortune and glory.
As this session begins, I have found two pieces of the WarWizard's nine-piece kit and am exploring the second kingdom, Zebesk. Although I've already found one piece here (the WarWizard's boots), there's at least one more dungeon that I know about. Before exploring it, though, I spend some time on my party composition. My three warriors have been working out well for me, but I'm worried that they won't be the best party for the late game, and I don't want to waste a lot more character development on them.
I first explore the town of Desert Creek, in the southern part of Zebesk's desert, near the eastern coast. The town has no pub, it turns out, so the NPC options are limited. The stack of four citizens in the inn all have something to contribute: that the temple to the south (actually to the west-southwest) contains great treasure; that there's a secret door in town between the magic shop and the general store; and that there are headhunters from the jungle locked up in the town's prison. I do find the secret door, which leads to a room with a treasure chest, which has a key to the prison. There are three doors in the prison. Two of them lead to combats with hostile groups of headhunters, but one leads to a peaceful headhunter who claims that he was imprisoned wrongly--he's not a headhunter, but "one of the good jungle people" from the city of Yaren. (Word wants me to replace "headhunter" with "recruiter.")  He asks me to tell the folks back home about his predicament.
Entering a new town.
Desert Creek has a spell shop, where I buy "Healing 2," and a potion shop, where I note that I could afford a couple of attribute-increasing potions, but at the cost of almost all my gold. I mark it for later.
Yaren is due west, near the western border of Zebesk, on the south side of a lake. Unfortunately, I cannot find anyone to tell of their townsman's incarceration. I do find a nice stack of NPCs at the pub, however, and it is here that I bid farewell to two of my warriors and enlist a Level 2 cleric and a Level 2 wizard. The cleric comes with "Healing 1," which will relieve Chester for other spellcasting duties. (That you can only memorize five spells in between visits to the inn is a huge weakness of the game, in my opinion.) The wizard comes with "Column of Fire" and "Burning Hands." "Column" is an awesome spell that works like D&D's "Lightning Bolt," except using fire.
A wizard joins me and I name her.
Before taking on any new areas, I take my new party back to the Temple of Alor. Although I defeated the minotaur god and found the WarWizard's boots, I didn't finish clearing out the temple. It turns out there's a lot more treasure to find, including two Fireball Wands, a Ring of Protection, a potion of "Increase Charisma," two great healing potions, and two daggers +2. The brace of daggers fit into the hands of my new wizard, who is remarkably good with them. That means I don't have to keep him out of melee combat.
After we clear the dungeon, we head to the second dungeon in Zebesk: the Temple of Kalor-Nun in the south-central jungle. I have no particular hint to be here, but there are only so many dungeons in the game, so I imagine I have to explore all of them. The headhunters who live in the place worship a gargoyle god, and there are lots of combats with headhunters and lesser gargoyles. We have to find a series of keys and navigate a couple of chambers full of teleportation pads.
Confronting the gargoyle god.
The showdown takes place in the center of the dungeon between us and the gargoyle god. As I've said before, single enemies aren't much of a threat, and the god is no exception. On his body, we find the WarWizard's helmet. There are minor weapon and armor upgrades throughout the rest of the dungeon, and when we leave, my wizard has daggers +3, my cleric has a hammer +3, and Chester has enough for those potions back in Desert Creek.
One-third done!
The location left in Zebesk is the city of  Caer Ereth, way up in the mountains--but on the other side of the mountains from the desert. You have to wrap around through one of the other kingdoms to get there. The borders don't make much sense. Early in the visit, I loot a guardroom for a key to the jail and then spend a while systematically killing every jail denizen--hobgoblins, gargoyles, orcs, assassins, thieves. None of them have any dialogue or significant treasure. I'm not sure what the point is.
A halfling jester standing by a fountain can only talk to me once I've cast "Tongues." He says that he's from Kraenn, but the evil one has taken over his land. He suggests I could get help from the king of the halflings but only tells me that they're on the west coast and "the way is perilous." Other than a potion shop with purchases marked for later, there was nothing to do but continue on to the kingdom of  Terwan, another desert land occupying the southwest corner of the continent.
The center of Terwan has a lake with an island with a pyramid. There's no obvious way to get to the island, but I wonder if some secret passage in the lakeside city of Merketh won't disgorge us there. 
I have to get across this water.
While exploring the city, we find a nomad hiding behind the potion shop (another place with valuable potions marked for later purchase). He has a hint about the pyramid, which is apparently called Pisoris: "A tunnel was dug under the water leading from the shore to Pisoris. Years later, this city was built, and the entrance was hidden within it." 
It's good that I have a good lockpick, because to fully explore Terwan, we need to pick a lot of doors. There are secret shops on an upper level, accessible only via locked doors, where merchants sell high-end weapons. I can't really afford anything now, so I just mark them for later. Another NPC suggest something hinky is up at the locksmith's shop. We find a secret door there, with a chest containing a magic cloak +3, but nothing else. Try as I might, I cannot find the secret entrance to the tunnel. My only hope is to get to Level 5 as a spellcaster and try to find the "Search" spell somewhere. Or maybe an NPC in another city will have a hint. For now, we move on.
The seaside town of Bayfield offers nothing special, so we move on to the capital of Terwan, the mountain castle at Caer Sorith. Here, an upper floor has four merchants selling spell scrolls and rings. None of them has "Search," alas, and I'm low on money anyway. In the throne room, the king tells us that one of the artifacts we seek is, predictably, in the Pyramid of Pisoris. The queen adds that to get to it, we'll have to go through Merketh.
The definition of "money sink."
The city has another prison with some nasty-looking monsters, but I don't see any point in fighting all of them.
Maybe later.
The next land in the obvious exploration pattern is Essea. It has four cities and towns. One of them, Tal Kelick, is located on the land's inner sea, which connects to the outer sea via a river that cuts through Cara. When I was running around looking for the best lockpick, I found a shipwright in Tal Kelick, selling ships for 4,000 gold. I only have about 2,700 right now. Knowing that it would be irresponsible to spend money in the short-term, I decide to bypass the cities and head right for the dungeon, Wineke, located in the northern forest.
"Dungeon" isn't the right term, but it's hard to tell what is. The title card calls it a "castle," but there are no walls. When we enter, we find ourselves in a maze of trees. After exploring for a while, we reach a small pond in the center of the area. A bridge takes us to an island in the pond, where there is nothing but a well. I don't know what to do here. I don't know what we could do here, since the game doesn't really give you a lot of options for interaction with things; you can't even really "use" inventory items. 
Elsewhere, a long passage through the trees takes me to a stone wall with a door, through which is the first fixed encounter that I've fought, with eight dark elven guards. I end up reloading and trying against these guards about six times. The problem is: a) they hate my cleric for some reason, and b) they have bows. Thus, no matter what else I do, the dark elves concentrate on my cleric exclusively until he's dead. Their bows seem to have unlimited range, so he can't run to some corner of the battlefield and hide. They have spell resistances, so my wizard's spells are ineffective. And their AC is so low that my other characters can't defeat them in melee combat before they inevitably kill the cleric. 
My cleric tries to hide in the corner, but the enemy arrows still find him.
After thinking about a course of action for a while, I decide to head back south and east, do some grinding on the road, and figure out which town has that "Search" spell. As we've discussed, grinding isn't quite as useful in WarWizard as in other CRPGs because the game doesn't have traditional experience and leveling. There are several other forms of character development, however:
  • Each character has a proficiency level with each weapon. Every successful hit gives you experience with that weapon equal to the amount of damage that you inflict. It takes 800 experience to go from Level 0 to Level 1, around 2,000 to get to Level 2, and about 12,000 to get to Level 3. It's hard to imagine getting to Level 3, let alone one of the levels beyond, so this method of development has a natural cap.
Potions have put my attributes above their initial levels of 18.
  • Similarly, each character has a proficiency level with his or her torso armor. The character gains experience from getting hit. 
  • Each character has an "evasion" score that increases from attacks that miss.
  • Spellcasting characters have spell levels. They gain experience from casting spells.
  • You can purchase or find potions that increase attributes and maximum hit points. Money can also purchase equipment upgrades, of course. 
Chester and my warrior are both close to Level 2 with their swords, so I fight random combats for an hour or so, make some money, and get bored. I decide to try to find the "Search" spell.
Grinding against giant beetles which, oddly enough, have gold.
I find it in the first town I try, Caer Ereth, and spend a painful 1,010 gold pieces on it. Unfortunately, it's a Level 5 spell, and Chester is only Level 2 as a sorcerer. The only way I can level up is by memorizing and casting "Tongues" repeatedly, which I do over the course of about 30 minutes while watching some TV shows. Once I have the spell, I return to Merketh, cast it, and start looking for the secret door I must have missed. (The spell annotates secret doors with a red dot.) I finally find it in the inn, it's the north wall of one of the 1 x 1 rooms.
I should have found this without the spell.
The secret door leads to a stairway, which leads to a tunnel, which apparently goes under the lake. There's nothing in the tunnel. We emerge on the island next to the pyramid and enter.
The pyramid ends up taking several hours and multiple trips. It predictably has multiple floors, all with difficult configurations, and--as has become common in the game--multiple locked doors and chests for which you have to find the keys. 
Emerging on the pyramid island.
Monsters are clerics, headhunters, and a variety of undead, including mummies, ghouls, specters, skeletons, and ghosts. Usually, when you run into a fixed battle that's too hard, you can reload the game and hope for a smaller number of enemies. But the pyramid has a few battles in which the game is determined to give me eight enemies (which I think is the maximum) no matter what. There are a couple of near-impossible battles with ghosts, who are capable of casting "Column of Fire" and who relentlessly target my wizard. In both of them, I have to let the wizard die and resurrect him later. The only way I can win is to have the wizard rush up next to the batch of enemies so they catch  themselves in their own "Column of Fire" spells. This only works if the wizard doesn't die in the first round, which he often does.
Fighting an assorted group of monsters.
The pyramid makes up for combat difficulty with rewards, both in terms of literal gold and magic items that I can sell for gold. By the time I finish, I have nearly 15,000 gold pieces, well above the 4,000 I need for the ship. I get a few weapon and armor upgrades.
I was not swallowed by the maze. I returned.
There are some nice visuals in the pyramid as we work our way up. The third level features a long maze of pillars, pits, and traps, but keeping to the right wall allows us to find our way through. At the top level, we come to the Chamber of the Dead Gods. A final battle with a motley crew of clerics, assassins, headhunters, and undead gives us access to the final treasure chest, in which I find the WarWizard's collar.
Approaching the final battle.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • The game gives me a lot of items whose exact use and purpose I don't know. What does an Amulet of Force +2 do? Is it better than a Magic Collar +2? How does an elven cloak compare to a magic cloak? 
  • Inventory juggling and encumbrance are becoming big problems, especially since stores have a maximum number of items they'll buy before their "cases become full" and you have to hunt for new stores. Eventually, I'll get to the point where I can't sell anything to anyone.
  • I keep finding "king's crowns" in various treasure chests. I've been holding onto them in case they're quest objects or something, but the sheer number is getting unwieldy.
  • The pyramid had more traps than any dungeon so far, but I still don't think I've actually set off a trap. I just get messages saying that I've dodged a trap. Maybe the dexterity level needed to dodge is so low that I just always make it. Either way, something seems broken with the mechanic. 
As I always do.
At this point, I have four of the nine pieces of the WarWizard's kit, so I'm about halfway through the game, which is shaping up to be far too long. So far, there's been one item per dungeon and one dungeon per kingdom. Something is going to have to change with that because there are only six kingdoms. But I'm sure more things will become clear next time, as I use my new boat to finish the borders of my map.
Time so far: 36 hours



  1. 4/9 quest items and 4/6 kingdoms, eh? One of the kindest and wisest things a game can do is accelerate right when it's on the verge of wearing out its welcome. Here's hoping the designers of WarWizard had that wisdom, both for your sake and for anyone who follows in your footsteps!

  2. Wineke, the forest dungeon castle, seems to me like a place which becomes important later by meeting someone or finding something there, thus breaking up the previous linearity.

    It's my best guess, at least...

  3. The economy seems better balanced in this game, although if you run out of places to sell, does that put a significant brake on things (what's the balance of gold found, vs made from selling items)?

    1. The balance has been about 50/50. I agree with you that the economy is reasonably strong.

  4. Only six kingdoms... so far! There still might be something beyond the northern mountains.

    1. I think the names of all six kingdoms were listed in the story at the beginning of the game, no? Considering one of the kingdoms visited so far had 2 items in it, definitely seems like there are some extra dungeons in some of the kingdoms.

  5. Do the WarWizard kit items have any benefits, or are they successively taking up slots that would be used by more useful magical items?

    1. I was wondering the same thing, whether they are actually upgrades?

    2. Interesting question. I've been assuming that the WarWizard goods are the ne plus ultra editions of whatever goes in their slots, but I admit I have no evidence of this. The items I've found so far--helm, belt, boots, collar--all reduce damage but otherwise have no visible effects on your statistics, so it's hard to tell. Once I have the armor or sword, I should know from the armor class and damage values.

  6. One of the things I associate with Brad McQuaid is needless complexity in search of "realism," with the accompanying disregard for the player experience. I get the feeling this was a game built out of attempts to fix perceived problems with other crpgs without necessarily thinking about how all the systems would gel together. The damage system and the progression system particularly seem better in theory than in practice.

    1. Since he's really only known for EverQuest, I assume you find such needless complexity in that game? If so, some examples?

      I like the idea of a body part damage system, but as I've said before, it's silly if every body part has the same number of hit points and the same chance of hitting.

    2. I love simulationist approaches to game design but there are definitely wrong ways to go about it.

    3. The original Everquest had a system kind of like the one Warwizard seems to have, in that you could only memorize 8 spells at a time. However, there was an added wrinkle that every time you died, you would have to rememorize your spells. Why did you have to rememorize them? Because you had died - tedious complexity in pursuit of realism. The lack of features most single player games had when Everquest came out like quest logs or an adequate in game map was also driven by the game's vision of immersion and authenticity. Other kinds of complexity in the game were there for what must have seemed like good reasons. For example, the class system was convoluted and very challenging for new players to understand, with roles more like what you'd typically see in a party based rpg, with healers and support characters practically unable to do damage or exist by themselves. This was done to encourage grouping and social play. However, I also see this as a place the game chose realism over fun.

      The original Everquest design is most famous for being extremely punishing, in order to create a sense of accomplishment, and there was a lot of rhetoric at the time from McQuaid and others suggesting that players who didn't like it weren't hardcore enough. Besides the famous death runs and loss of levels, remember that in the original Everquest you had to sit and meditate for upwards of half an hour every time you ran out of mana. These kind of design decisions aren't precisely complexity, but they do show that McQuaid's design style was very focused on abstract ideals instead of player engagement. Over and over again, Everquest took the gameplay patterns of MUDs and made them more complex and less player friendly - or at least, that's the narrative I've always heard, never having been a MUD player myself.

    4. I remember spending literally all night as a shadow knight summoning corpses out of a dungeon from a failed raid for some random group of people who had nobody else to turn to. It took like 15 minutes for my mana to regenerate, and each cast took a very expensive spell component. However, it was literally the only way for those folks to recover their painfully obtained gear beyond finding another large group of organized folks to mount another raid

    5. I remember losing level 27 three times in Crushbone on my Iksar monk. Can't remember why I wanted to gain faction there anymore (that was the first time I ever left Kunark), but it was fun being able to wander around in most of Kelethin.

      I think part of The Vision was that most players wouldn't play for a short while each time they played. Given how long it took to travel anywhere without help. It did drive some players away, but there was a sense of accomplishment just simply getting somewhere the first time. Or sometimes fun just watching the other players waiting for a boat, or even joining in a language session.

      The lack of solo content was a bigger problem.

  7. When a store's "cases become full" does buying something from that store open up a free slot to sell them something new? Or are those systems separate?

    I was imagining needing to buy cheap items and throw them away to make room to sell more expensive items.

    1. I can imagine the exchange here: "I know you'd like to sell me that magic sword that I can resell and make thousands, but that rusty dagger has been sitting in my case for years and I just can't let it go."

    2. It's annoying because you get the "case is full" message even when there are a couple of visible slots available. But yes, buying an item does free up a slot for you to sell another item. Naturally, that type of juggling is something I'm not eager to get into. I think PROBABLY there's enough gold in combats and treasure chests to get you through the game. Selling items might get you a few more attribute-boosting potions.

  8. Dick Clark's $25,000 Pyramid always had such a B Grade list of celebrities. Like, you'd get most of the cast of the great '70s show Newhart, except for Newhart himself.

  9. Those faces inside the piramid right before final battle looks just like "The face on mars"


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