Sunday, October 7, 2018

Crusaders of the Dark Savant: Career Changes

My party, members now in their permanent classes, confidently marches out of New City.
When I started this blog, if I referred to "rose-colored memories" of past games, I would have been referring to times I played games in the 1980s or 1990s, when I was young and the games were new. These days, on the other hand, I could use the phrase to refer to games I played at the beginning of this blog. Writing today, I haven't played any of the pre-Bradley Wizardry games in almost four years. Are my memories accurate? Is my admiration valid?

What I remember most about the original Wizardry, and to a lesser extent the second two scenarios, is a marvelous sense of tension in exploration and combat. Particularly since I was adhering to the series's use of permadeath, every step forward felt like a risk. The further you got away from the safety of the town level, the more your hit points dropped, the more you depleted your spell slots, the greater the odds were stacked against you. These considerations created a tactical landscape that went far beyond the strict combat mechanics. In deciding whether to try to wipe out your enemies with just a MAHALITO, or to double it up with a MODALTO from another caster, you had to think beyond the immediate combat. You had to worry about the next combat, plus all the combats in your backpath on the way to the surface. Your spell slots were precious resources. You wouldn't waste a high-level spell on an easy party, just to make combat go more quickly--you needed it for the unanticipated high-level group down the hall.

Wizardry VI completely upended the nature of combat tactics in the franchise while not significantly changing the combat mechanics themselves. You still plan everyone's action ahead of time, then execute them (in tandem with the enemies' actions) all at once. You still have limitations on spells, though "slots" have been replaced with magic points, and the spell system in general has been expanded. You still have a lot of variability in the difficulty of enemies that you encounter. The big difference is that you can save, and usually rest, in between combats. The focus is thus entirely on the individual combat rather than the entire landscape. It pays to err on the side of over-use of powerful spells just to make victory certain.

More about combat and magic in a minute, but let's take a moment to check in with the party, which has undergone some changes since I last blogged. Last time, I was wrestling with the game's class-changing system, including when and how often. Based on your comments, I realized that I had been thinking of it all wrong. I hadn't shaken myself out of Dungeons and Dragons (second edition) mode, where dual-classing can create powerful characters, but it pays to get as high as possible in the first class before dual-classing because afterwards you can only level in the second class. Here, that's not true. Once you acquire skills and spells, they're part of your repertoire forever, and you can keep adding points to them even if they don't make sense with your current class. A Dungeons and Dragons fighter who duals to a mage at Level 10 isn't a fighter at all anymore until she reaches Level 11 as a mage, and even then she's only kind of a fighter. In this game, even if you only spend one level as a mage, you're at least partly a mage forever.

(The one big exception here is that your current class defines what weapons, armor, and items you can use. Thus, it doesn't make sense to build someone's sword skills to high levels and then dual to a mage, who can't use a sword.)
Having been through several class changes, Esteban has a lot of weapon skills at his disposal, only some of which he can actually use as a bishop.
Thus, I began to think of my party more in terms of what skills I wanted the characters to have rather than literal classes. I spent some time changing, grinding, experimenting, and changing again, in some cases limited by minimum attributes, but generally able to acquire what I wanted. That included at least two characters with high-level mage abilities and at least four characters with healing abilities.

Ultimately, I wanted to end this session with my characters in their "final" incarnations (at least for most of the game). Every time you change a class, you reset the character's attributes to the minimum requirements for that class. It's tough to give up all that strength, speed, and so forth, and I imagine it's particularly tough later in the game, when your foes are harder. As thrilling as it is to level up, I'd rather do it less often but in pursuit of more heroic characters. 

One of my first changes was to make my thief a samurai. I can't really remember why. But once I did, she acquired the "Kirijutsu" skill, and I absolutely fell in love with it. Every point in the skill makes it more likely that the character will strike a critical hit in combat, instantly killing an enemy. I don't even care if the chance is really small; I just love that the chance is there. Thus, I cycled all my fighters through classes that imparted that skill, at least for a few levels. Three of them were able to change to ninjas for a while, which is a great choice because it has such high attribute requirements that, if you can make it in the first place, you don't lose as many of your accumulated points.
Gideon strikes a critical hit on a Savant Guard. This never gets old.
I advanced in my new classes mostly by grinding in New City. At first, I did this primarily by sleeping in the street, which seems to attract an enemy party about 25% of the time. Later, I realized that if I used the wrong item to try to open a door in one of the buildings (I don't even know what the right item is), it would reliably send at least one party of Savant Troopers or Savant Guards my way. These guys offer quite a bit of experience, but the problem is that they're tough enemies. Troopers have lances that can drain stamina and paralyze party members. If I got three parties of 5 Troopers each, I was toast. Nonetheless, it was worth the risk, and I learned a lot about my available spells during the process.

When I was done (and this all took me maybe 8 hours combined):
  • Gideon had cycled through several levels as a monk (that was a waste of time) and several levels as a ninja before ending up as a lord again.
  • Noctura got some mage spells as a samurai for a few levels before she had high enough attributes to change to her permanent ninja class (she had been a thief originally)
  • Bix went from a bard to an alchemist to, finally, a mage. I know that's not a lot of diversity, but the alchemist position at least afforded him some healing spells.
  • Svava went from a Valkyrie to a ninja to a ranger (that turned out to be mostly a waste) and back to a Valkyrie. I had to take her all the way to Level 9 as a ranger because it took forever to reach the Valkyrie minimums.
  • Esteban went from a priest to a ninja to finally end up where I wanted him as a bishop.
  • Prenele, who was already where I wanted her (alchemist) spent some time as a mage and a priest before returning her her original class.
I might have missed some. I seem to remember having someone as a psionic for a while before realizing the spells just weren't very good. In any event, I realize that not all of these changes made sense or ultimately served any strategic goal, but remember I was just experimenting, and the best part is that there's no real harm in trying out a class that doesn't ultimately work out. The worst that happens is you gained some skills that you don't bother to develop any further.
My Valkyrie mulls a class change. Her stats aren't good enough for lord, bishop, ninja, monk, psionic, or alchemist.
Just before I started changing classes, some of my higher-level fighters started to achieve extra attacks in combat. They had already been at a point where they often struck twice during a single attack, but eventually they reached a level where they'd get an extra couple attacks at the end of the combat round. The odd thing is that they retained these extra attacks even after they changed classes and were busted back to Level 1 again. So I'm not really sure what governs these extra attacks. I don't know, it's probably in the manual somewhere, but the frigging thing is 70 pages long.

The exercise accomplished my primary goal of making a stronger party. Now I have four characters with Kirujutsu, and thus a chance at critical hits every combat round. More important, I have three characters capable of some mass damage spells.

It took me a while to figure out the spell system, and I'm a little fuzzy on parts. Each character has what amounts to a "mana" bar, but that's a bit misleading because the bar is a composite of each individual status, and each individual maximum, within a variety of spell "realms." The realms (fire, earth, water, mental, air, and divine) are different from the spell "schools" (mage, alchemist, priest, psionic), each of which has multiple spells in each realm. Right now, my mage Bix has anywhere between a maximum of 22 points (divine realm) and 47 points (water realm) in each realm. His actual spells are a combination of those learned during his time as a bard, an alchemist, and a mage.

When you cast a spell, the number of points available in that realm depletes. Your overall mana bar may look great, but if you're out of points in the divine realm, there's no more healing. It takes a long time, or several sleep sessions, to fully restore points in a realm, so my characters basically end up cycling through them. One combat, my mage will favor earth spells, the next he'll focus on fire spells. It thus pays to have a couple of mass damage spells or a couple of incapacitation spells spread across multiple realms.

What I don't fully understand is what determines the number of points available to the realms. It's not based on your skills in the various magic schools, since those apply to all realms. (I think those points just determine what spells are offered to you at each level-up, but I'm not completely sure.) I think it has something to do with the literal number of spells you've taken in each realm. Thus, when leveling up, it sometimes pays to choose a spell you don't really care about, but in a realm in which you want more power.

When casting spells, you have the option to specify a multiplier, from 1 to 7, which is a major consideration. A "Fireball" cast at the base level of 1 only does 2-10 hit points of damage to 3 creatures in a group. Cast at Level 5, it does 10-50 hit points of damage to 8 creatures in a group--but of course it absorbs much more magic. The consideration is there even in status effects like "Cure Disease" and "Cure Paralysis." Not all disease, poison, paralysis, and other effects are created equal. You have to try to guess how strong it is and then override it with the right spell level.

Even here, there are things I don't understand. First, you can't cast a spell at Level 7 the moment you acquire it. But I'm not sure what determines what level you can cast it at. Your level in the class? Your skill? Your points in the realm? Some combination of these? It's not even consistent. My Level 4 mage can cast "Chilling Touch" (a water spell) at Level 4 but can only cast "Cure Paralysis" (also a water spell) at Level 2. I know, I know: read the manual. But it's really long and you guys will tell me what's happening within 10 minutes of this posting.
Some of Prenele's spell options. The dice indicate the spell level, including the nonsensical last die with seven pips on it.
During my grinding, I really learned to appreciate some of the non-damaging status effect spells. I had already been using "Sleep," "Hold Monster," and "Paralyze" quite liberally. The problem with these is that they only take an enemy out of commission for as long as you leave him alone. Once you attack him, the spell wears off. And since you can't specify particular enemies to attack (just a group), it's hard to keep everyone incapacitated. These work best when you're facing multiple groups and you want to sideline two of them so you can focus on one group at a time.

Usually, I go right for the mass damage spells. I have a lot of those now, spread across multiple characters and multiple realms. My favorite is "Acid Bomb," which damages everyone in a group and keeps damaging them for several subsequent rounds. But for causing more damage in a single round, I have (again, spread over multiple characters) "Magic Missile" (divine), "Whipping Rocks" (earth), "Fire Bomb" (fire), "Fireball" (fire), "Iceball" (water), and "Deadly Air" (air). I don't yet have any spells that damage all enemies in all groups, but they're coming.
A powerful mass-damage spell.
To get any serious power out of those spells, however, you have to cast them at high levels and sacrifice a lot of points. My spellcasters can only handle a couple of them before having to rest. What I've learned to appreciate are some low-level spells that cost less and greatly reduce the effectiveness of enemies. These include "Confusion," "Blinding Flash," and "Itching Skin." Usually, I don't like to waste time on spells that don't show me the effects directly (which is why I never waste a round on "Curse" in D&D games, for instance). But here, those effects are not subtle. When an enemy party goes from a 75% hit rate to a 75% miss rate in one round, you know "Itching Skin" is doing its job.

A lot of single-enemy damage spells were also enormously useful during this process. As I moved from class to class, I didn't always have the right set of weapons to equip my characters. Thus, spells like "Energy Blast," "Chilling Touch," and "Acid Splash," all of which affect only one enemy at a time, became acceptable alternatives to melee combat. Because they only affect one enemy at a time, they have low casting costs, and you can get half a dozen or so before you need to rest.

So that's been my last 8 hours. Now I feel better equipped to take on the unexplored areas. I'm still having no luck cleaning up those last few areas of New City, except one previously-locked door that yielded to a "Knock Knock" spell (and had a chest with some decent armor behind it), but by next entry I should have made a lot more progress on the main quest.
Time so far: 31 hours


  1. Class changing is so strong in this game. I believe kirijutsu tops out at 20% kill chance at level 100, and it stacks with weapon and class bonuses.

    Number of attacks goes up with class levels, but you also get bonus swings from high stats, weapon skills, and certain weapons. I think Samurai get the most attacks.

    1. It also depends on the level difference between you and the enemy, like most everything in the game.

  2. Spells have a difficulty level between 1 and 7 (a fixed one, not the power level you select when casting them). It determines when you're able to learn them (skill level) and how powerful you can cast them.

    E.g. Energy Blast has level 1. You can learn it immediatelly (as a mage), cast it at level 1 as a level 1 mage, and finally cast it at level 7 as a level 7 mage.

    Fireball has level 3. You need a thaumaturgy skill of 36 to learn it, can cast it from level 3 on, and you need to be level 9 to cast it at full strength.

    1. You know, I've looked through the manual, and I don't think it's entirely clear on this point, so thanks.

  3. I have a strong suspicion that in all this grinding and resting you made your questing largely useless, because it's likely that all the maps are now in the hands of competing parties.

    1. Most dungeons are still necessary since they contain important quest items besides the map. There are a few which can be skipped if you just buy the maps once they're gone.

      Spoiler: Gung jbhyq or Enggxva Ehvaf, Tvnag Pnir, Jvgpu Pnir naq Byq Pvgl fvapr gurl bayl tvir lbh gur Obng, Fculak naq Qentba zncf (naq n avpr uryzrg).

    2. Vfa'g gure euvf fvatyr znc gung pna'g ernyyl or obhtug naq vf obgu pehpvny nf vg vf n pevgvpny xrl naq ng gur fnzr gvzr va unaqf bs bar bs gubfr cbjreshy enggxva? V'z abg dhvgr fher gubhtu.

    3. Disclaimer: I've never done a full playthrough of this gem. But I think it's entirely possible to do a whole lot of grinding and still get most or all of the maps in good time. The New City guardpost where you (ab)use the black wafer to summon waves upon waves of Savant Troopers and Guards was the place where I grinded heavily, switching professions several times until everybody had Ninjutsu and 100 in their primary spellcasting skill, as well as many many MANY spellpoints. And I still got the maps in Enggxva Ehvaf naq Byq Pvgl no problem.

    4. Yeah, I did level grinding in the Gorn dungeon through 2-3 class changes for everyone, then again in the dragon caves, and still found everything. You really need lots of levels and spells though to make it through the rougher dungeons.

  4. I don't know the specific mechanism about spell points either, but as I remember it you gain some extra in every realm every time you level up, and on top you gain the minimum cost of the new spell you select to learn for the level (when you choose Identify you get 8 points in Mental p.e.)

    Also I agree with the previous post that the grinding and resting in New City will not really do you a lot of good. The combats in the game were mostly tough but interesting. If your characters are so powerful now that most of the combats are trivial then you are deriving yourself of quite a bit of the joy to be found in this game.

    On the other hand the game has a ton of quests and puzzles (Old City included) that I was not able to solve as a teenager and I am curious to see how you will fare on these.

    1. I was getting my ass kicked every time I ventured out into the wilderness, so I figured some grinding would help. Hopefully, I didn't do so much that it spoils the rest of the game, but I guess we'll see.

    2. My experience is that grinding, while maybe not completely necessary, makes the rest of the game more accessible and, to me at least, enjoyable. Mostly in that there's no need to rest every three or four fights, you can go for a bit longer if multiple characters can employ powerful mass-nuke spells. And in that the RNG and random encounter tables hating you doesn't necessitate such a lot of quit-reloading.

    3. Well, I think I liked the challenges of the hard battles, andere there is quite a bit of inadvertent grinding happening whether you want it or not.

      Either way, being prepared saves you from at least one possibly traumatizing fight. You remember when you fought Murkato's Ghost? There is another fight of this type: Very hard, and there is no way to turn around and come back later. If you are unprepared you have to reload from quite a bit before.

  5. Your spell points per realm is primarily based on the casting cost of each spell you know in it. Choosing Dispell Undead from the Divine realm will give you 7 points of divine. If you don't really care which spell from your options you get, choose the one with the most points in the realm you use the most.

    Note that this only counts from leveling up. Spells learned from books don't give spell points.

    1. Ah, got it. So it's not just the number of spells but their relative power level. Thanks!

  6. By also having nobody having spent some time on anyone in the role of a Psionic, you are missing out on some high end, class specific spells.

    What used to work best for me was to have spellcasters scroll through classes that specialise in different fields.

    As the skill relevant does not decrease, even if you switch back later (to a Mage for example), as your Thaumaturgy is already higher from your first crack at the class (or perhaps as a Bishop), you can immediately begin to learn some higher level spells...

    1. With as many classes as there are, you're always going to miss out on class specific stuff.

      Your best bet is to simply choose the classes you like and go from there. I'm pretty sure that most, if not all, the classes have been used to solo the game.

      As I've said before, changing classes can make for some powerful characters but isn't necessary. That was my biggest disappointment with 8. In order to "fix" class changing they made it practically worthless. When the problem was only caused by people who knew what they were doing in the first place (in other words had already played before).

    2. So, the only awesome high-level psionic spell that I see that is NOT available to the priest is "Mind Flay." While admittedly this would be useful, I figured the priest's "Word of Death," the alchemist's "Deadly Air," and the mage's "Nuclear Blast" would all be adequate substitutes. What am I really missing by avoiding this class?

    3. Nothing. Nuclear Blast is the most convenient spell in the game (as damage is a rather reliable tool), while insta-death spells rarely work on more powerful monsters. The weak psionic spells are also what makes the Monk class inferior to the Ninja (Alchemy spells are awesome).

    4. That said, the best crowd control spell is Asphyxiation. For crowd control only, won't work on anything powerful.

    5. I wonder why game designers even bother with insta-death super spells. Every RPG has one and it's always useless as it's impossible to balance. An insta-death spell HAS to be super high level because, you know, killing something right away is a powerful effect. But high level single monsters need to be resistant to it or it will be way too easy and boring to one-shot the big boss. So by the time you get the spell, it doesn't work on the only enemies you would want to cast it on, since you can then easily dispatch the lower-level monsters on which the spell does work.

      The only way I've seen it moderately balanced is by either class-restricting the effect (Destroy Undead, Banish Demon), or by turning insta-kill into "a lot of damage" for higher-level monsters which "resist" the effect, so it's never useless to waste the astronomical spell points amount these always cost, but then again, it's not an insta-kill spell anymore, right?

    6. I don't remember which game it was, but it had lots and lots of enemies (Diablo? I don't think so) and death spell was dirt cheap, worked only on enemies far below your (power) level and had enormous range. It was quite useful to wipe out small fries so that you could concentrate on real threats. AFAIR other spells were very expensive in comparison and had much, much smaller range - about order of magnitude?

    7. Asphyxiation is indeed super convenient for crowd control. Doubly so with the Amulet... that you can recharge for free at the magic-recharging fountains. One of the magic items that make the game much easier and fighting mobs far more convenient later on. Another example, maybe even more so, is the Gurezny Cvarnccyr...

    8. "Mindread" is a very useful psionic only spell for those who play without walkthrough, it opens new options outside combat and might reduce getting stuck and needing spoilers. In combat psionic spells are at least as powerful as priest spells.

  7. You must have had extremely lucky rolls when leveling up. I'd have expected the 6 stat raises in personality to get from human ninja minimum to lord or 5 stat raises both in INT and PIE to get from elf ninja minimum to bishop to require going up to about level 20 each since I remember getting only two of the seven statistics raised at average when playing the game. Did you reload some level ups ?

    1. Yeah, I confess I scummed Esteban a bit. Once he hit Level 4 as a ninja, I looked at his stats and realized he'd need to get intelligence or piety, sometimes both, on every level up after that if I wanted to get him to a lord, so I re-fought a few combats. Even then, I had to take him all the way to Level 10 as a ninja.

      With Gideon, I just got lucky, but I think I made a mistake above. I don't think I ever took Gideon to ninja. I didn't need to, since he got his Kirujutsu as a monk. So he would have leveled up 8 or 9 times as a monk, and without trying to, I got personality with I guess at least 6 of them.

    2. Meant "bishop" instead of Lord in the first paragraph. As an aside, I didn't feel VERY bad about it, because at the time I switched him from priest to ninja, he had the stats to make bishop THEN.

  8. In the 80s-90s, RTFM is the worst insult a game can give or receive, even if the manual is over 100 pages long because it was a part of the game itself.

    Nowadays, RTFM has been relegated to tech support cooler break small talk about Jim from Accounts who doesn't know where the power button on his new monitor is.

  9. I will never understand what people see in 'roguelikes' for the life of me. I mean, there's the thrill and the fear, yes, but hardly any progress. But perhaps I'm simply to old for wanting to smash my keyboard whilst playing a game. Today, I prefer the more relaxing part of my hobby :-)

  10. No worries even with the Class changes you are not too overpowered for the rest of the game.
    I did some "HexMagic" once and the lack of Decent Equipment hurt me more since I didn´t feel like resting several times after each battle for 10+minutes due to doing a LP o.-

  11. I'd recommend grabbing a faerie ninja if your party allows, if only because there is a weapon unique to them that makes some of the late game much easier.

    Also, if you run across an NPC party and you have saved recently you might want to pick a fight, a few have unique items and some are hording others, and while you might not want to keep the results, knowing who has what doesn't hurt.

  12. To refer back to the third paragraph, it feels like a lot of modern RPGs have adjusted themselves to be about the fight itself rather than the dungeon as a whole. That is, the individual encounters are more challenging, but you don't have to worry about managing resources and resting for spells for the long-term as your team is fully restored after each battle. Then there are games like Dark Souls who take it in the opposite direction, where it's very much about how far you can go with your finite supply of healing items without backtracking to a rest area, resetting all the enemies and starting the same leg of the journey over.

    I think as long as we continue to get a mix of both, and the games are either smartly built around this convenience or built to work without it, I'd be all set. I always appreciate the variety.

    1. I really liked the system Dark Sun (can't wait for 1993 to arrive so the Addict can play this masterpiece) and later Knights of the Chalice used. You had campfire spots placed in the levels at fixed locations, and you could only rest there. Sometimes, you would be cut off from such a resting place for a long while (say, you went down a dungeon and the stairs collapsed behind you), forcing you to manage your resources, especially spell slots until you finally come upon a resting spot. Sometimes, a resting spot would be readily available near the entrance of a location and you could rest before every fight.

      That way, each dungeon can have its own style of challenge.

    2. I remember having to restart Dark Sun Shattered Lands because I entered an area that cuts you off from resting until after a difficult fight, while already low on resources (and hadn't used a different save slot for a while). That wasn't fun.

      Still, I agree, they're fantastic games.

  13. It is funny to see your confusion about the magic system when you already completed the previous game, which uses the same magic system. This must be the effect of playing multiple games in quick sucession like you are doing. On an unrelated note, I was wondering about the monetization of the blog. Did you removed all the ads from it? Have you ever considered a patreon? With that you can have a reliable ammount of resources to devote more to this activity.

    1. I completed the previous game 5 years and 180 games ago. And even then, I'm not sure I really understood it.

      I removed ads because my screenshots occasionally show a nipple, and Google told me that violated the AdSense terms of service. Check the FAQ for Patreon etc.

    2. I would definitely support Patreon as well. This blog gives me so much pleasure and provides me with knowledge and entertainment that I would like to give something back. I think a lot of readers would agree.

  14. Yes, you got the point of it: once you have a skill, you have it. I had Ninjitsu and Bard Skills at 100 for everyone.

    Oh, and one more thing: alchemists are awesome, they cannot be silenced :)

    I have very nice memories playing this game and grinding/levelling up. Not so much when I actually tried to finish it, though.

  15. Talking about the shift from having to beware of future random encounters to a single-combat focus reminded me of D&D. Early D&D was VERY much about that long term balance. However, with the move to 3rd edition both a) Magic got a lot more powerful due to the idea of 'system mastery' unfortunately entering the game, and b) a focus more on storytelling and less dungeon crawling removing the random encounter. This lead to wizards being very overpowered due to something called the "15 minute workday"; You do one fight, blow all your big spells, then rest for 8 hours, repeat.

    This happened somewhat in the Living Greyhawk I played, where the adventures had to be fit into a 4-hour timeslot. This typically worked out to a 15-minute introductory Obligatory Thug Fight to get everyone's head in the game, then a few hours of roleplaying/investigation/etc, then one big boss fight in which you could unload everything.


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