Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Return of Werdna: 229 Shades of Gray

A Priest of Fung is un-ap-helpful.
When you arrive on Level 5, a message greets you: "The creatures of light and darkness await you!" The level fulfills this promise in a couple of ways. First, the level consists of alternating light and dark squares. Dark squares are annoying because you can't see the edges and thus don't know where the walls are. You have to try different directions and see if you conk your head. Across much of the level, the light and dark squares make a checkerboard pattern, but it's imperfect, often interrupted by walls and cul-de-sacs, and ultimately there are more dark squares than light squares: 229 out of 400.
What a "dark" square looks like.
Second, on 43 of those squares, you face an encounter with either a "light" (good-aligned) enemy, symbolized by a butterfly, or a "dark" (evil-aligned) enemy, symbolized by a moth. Each enemy has a name based on the name of a species of butterfly or moth, and each has a number. Despite the symbolization, though, in practice each enemy is a standard class (fighter, thief, mage, etc.) with the standard abilities of those classes.
Each battle is announced by its alignment and number.
  1. Meleager, fighter
  2. Silverstripe, mage
  3. Purple Emperor, priest
  4. Golden Danaid, bishop
  5. Special (see below)
I love when master ninjas roll critical hits.
  1. Io, fighter
  2. Lapper, mage
  3. Gaudy Sphinx, priest
  4. Emperor Tau, thief
  5. Death's Head, ninja
Only in a Wizardry game could a moth kill a dragon.
Light #5 is a pair of enemies named John Ap Griffin and Mistress Flavia. Googling those names shows that these are pseudonyms for John Griffin Trimble and Betty JoAnne ("Bjo") Trimble, both longtime members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms in California. Either they were Wizardry players and among those who sent in disks or someone at Sir-Tech was paying them homage. They alone among the butterfly/moth encounters have a battle cry ("Upward!"), and they alone drop treasure--a pair of "Winged Boots" that might be the solution to the outside areas of Level 7.
As I mentioned, there are 43 such squares, and thus each encounter repeats several times, from a low of two (L-1) to a high of eight (D-5). There are 20 light encounters and 23 dark ones, all assuming that I didn't make a mistake somewhere, or I'm not wrong that the encounters are fixed in their squares. (I'm pretty sure I always encountered the same enemies in the same squares.) There doesn't seem to be any pattern to their distribution, which drove me crazy. Even now, I don't know if I was supposed to kill them all, or kill them in a particular order, or do anything more than I did with them. Except that you probably need those Winged Boots and that you have to pass through at least one D-5 encounter on the way to the stairs, I'm not sure any of them are necessary. I didn't see anything in the hints that would help me with them.
My map of Level 5.
The butterflies and moths are not the only encounters on the level. You still face the usual assortment of "do-gooders," including the usual two parties. Raiden's Raiders ("Spread out, men!") is the easier of the two. They only have a couple of spellcasters, and everyone's hit points are in the double-digits, some of them low enough to be a guaranteed kill with MAKANITO ("Deadly Air"). Compensating for any ease they offer is the deadly Horin's Holy Rollers ("For God and St. Trebor!"; I didn't know he'd been canonized). With three lords, two priests, and a bishop, they can all cast high-level priest or mage spells, and most of them have hit points in the 100s. The Holy Rollers drop a Magician's Hat, which I equipped in lieu of either my Novice Cap or Initiate's Turban.
Horin's Holy Rollers get me.
The roster of wandering single enemies is relatively pathetic in contrast, and weighed heavily towards melee classes. The ninjas are the most dangerous because there's always a chance of a lucky decapitation.
  • Aurelia, an evil priest.
  • Chryseis, an evil bishop 
  • Daja, a neutral thief.
  • Fingers, a neutral thief
  • Interface, a neutral mage
  • Login, a good mage. I have no idea why they didn't follow these two with Password, an evil mage.
  • Mage Marian, a good mage. She can cast TILTOWAIT, an automatic reload if she goes first, so she's the worst of the lot.
  • Molyx, an evil thief
  • Quilen, a neutral thief
  • Saleg, a good priest. 
  • Stilgar, a good bishop.
  • Sturm, a good ninja.
Should have brought your partner, Drang.
  • Sultan, a good fighter.
  • Telima, a neutral thief. Has a Cape of Hide.
  • Zandor, a neutral fighter.
There's a weird focus on single-word names of 5-7 letters, but I don't know if that means anything.
In an earlier entry, I talked about how much of the time you spend mapping the levels of Werdna is wasted because you inevitably die and only have your maps to show your progress. This was particularly true of this level. I didn't find the pentagram until I'd mapped about 90% of the rest of the level, particularly since in an open level like this, my tendency is to work from the edges inward. The wights, bishops, and master ninjas that I brought with me had to sustain me for most of the level (with about a dozen reloads to the entry square). There was even a half hour or so where I managed to hang on through multiple combats with a single wight, which was kind of exhilarating.
Because I explored so much with the previous level's allies, I didn't develop the same expertise with the new ones that I did on earlier levels. I was disappointed in most of them. None of them seemed to be as powerful as the paralyzing, level-draining, spell-casting wights available on Level 6, so I kept them in the party for most of the rest of my exploration. (I originally thought ghasts would be the next evolution, but they just seem like wights without the magic and a lesser level drain.) Of the new allies, although most sounded cool, they seemed to have a lame physical attack or some minor status effect like poison that no longer really helps. The one major exception were Priests of Fung. I remember ranting about them in my entries on Wizardry III, so it was nice to have them on my side, slinging BADI ("Death") and LITOKAN ("Flames"). Gas dragons were okay, with a breath attack and the ability to cast Level 3 mage spells. I was disappointed in whatever "Masters/Dragons" are supposed to be. I don't remember them from previous Wizardry games. If they're supposed to be masters of dragons, they don't seem to actually come with their dragons. I suppose it's like composing a party of "lion tamers"--sounds cool until you realize they're not very dangerous without their lions. 
A host of substandard allies.
I was amused by a couple of them. Komodo dragons are actual animals, and while I'm not saying I'd screw with one lightly if I came across one, I don't like their chances against armored warriors. Seraphim are a class of angels in Christian mythology, so heaven knows why they're helping Werdna. 
The pentagram lacks any serious mage weight, but Werdna does pretty well for himself there. In addition to bringing all my attributes to 14, the pentagram gave me LAKANITO ("Vacuum"), MASOPIC ("Crystal"), ZILWAN ("Dispel"), and HAMAN ("Beg"). LAKANITO is a combat-ender if Werdna goes early enough, so effective that I can't imagine using a Level 6 slot for anything else. MASOPIC lowers everyone's armor class, but physical combat isn't the danger in this game. ZILWAN dispels undead, which the enemy parties never have (maybe that changes). HAMAN is a mystery. It's supposed to be a "wish" spell that delivers a variety of potential boons but costs an experience level. That's too high a price to pay in the usual Wizardry game, and as such, I never cast it. But in a game where you can just wander over to the nearest pentagram to get that level back, I'd be more likely to cast it. The problem is, it never seems to work. It just says the gods can't hear me. Maybe that changes on higher levels or particular locations. It would be interesting if the spell was later used to solve puzzles.
Now I am become death.
It hit me in this entry how slowly Werdna goes from absolutely relying on the protection of his allies to becoming more powerful than any of them. Although the game lacks traditional character development, it still manages to instill a delicious sense of growing power.
That leaves the Oracle. I nailed him for six clues during this session, but I think only the first three made it into my saved progress by the end of the level [Ed. I later created a special entry just to record and analyze Oracle hints]:
19. "You too can be saved! Repent ye sinner! Wash away thy sins! Repent!" I believe I've heard that there's a potential ending in which Werdna can become "good." This is probably referring to that.
20. "Down into the bowels of the Earth." That's where we seem to be right now. Maybe it's a clue about going to the Gates of Hell.
21. "Password is your ancient battlecry." I think I had this spoiled for me, but we'll talk about it when I get to it.
Too bad "Upward!" is taken. It would fit this game well.
22. "To soar the heights, you must first plunge the fiery depths." Well, this suggests that I'm going to need whatever's in the Gates of Hell before I can fly around the ziggurat. Maybe the Winged Boots aren't enough.
23. "Career opportunity . . . experienced muezzin needed . . . great fringes!" A muezzin is the guy who calls the daily prayer at a mosque. This might refer to the Initiate's Turban I have, but I don't know where I need it.
24. "Cloudy tonight. Chance of rain tomorrow." No idea.
Much of the southwest of the level is fenced in. The only exit takes you to a teleporter that moves you back half a dozen squares. To get out of this area, you have to find the teleporter at (13,8), which creates some momentary mapping confusion when it moves you to (16,0). Jeweled Amulets are so plentiful on this level that I just started using them regularly, even when I didn't notice any problems. From the teleport location, the stairs are a fairly straight shot up the east wall and across the north wall. 
Along the way, I did have one somewhat confusing encounter:
The Red Skull? The Red Sonja? The Red Shoe Diaries? And what is the Cosmic Cube? Is it somehow related to the Cosmic Forge? In any event, it continues:
"The Silent Screams of Distant Butterflies" would be a great Charlie Kaufman film title.
The object around his neck is listed as the "Breath of Life" unidentified. Identified, it is an Oxygen Mask. Either I'm going to end up in a place where I need it to breathe (An underwater level? Space? Hell?) or it's a way to defend myself against someone's can't-miss LAKANITO.
I'm tempted to head back down to Level 9 and see if I can complete the bell, book, and candle ritual, or to Level 7 to see if the Winged Boots help me around the ziggurat. But if I can get to the pentagram on Level 4, I should get hold of MALOR ("Teleport"), which should make the return journey easier. For now, I think I'll continue on. I only have two inventory slots left in the Black Box, though. I need to start using some of these items.
Just what you want to see when arriving on a new level.
As with Level 6, I was surprised that the navigation puzzles on Level 5 weren't even harder. I was so paranoid that it should be harder that I kept checking my coordinates and thus probably saved myself from the couple of places that had a teleporter. (There's also a certain paranoia that comes from turning while in dark squares. Did I accidentally hit the key twice?) If I were Roe Adams, I would have thrown a few spinners into some of those dark squares. Maybe a couple more teleporters. Instead, mapping was time-consuming but not very hard.
But I say this while on the threshold of a level that made me "nope" out of the game the moment I saw it on a map. Let's see how it goes when I'm making the map. One square at a time, I have to keep saying. One square at a time.
Time so far: 27 hours


  1. The Trimbles are probably most famous for leading (or at least being major participants in) the "Save Star Trek" campaign which extended Star Trek to three seasons in the late 60s. Closer to the time of the game, they also were part of the campaign give the name Enterprise to the first Space Shuttle.

    1. And before that they were Big Name Fans of the SF fandom.

    2. Because we really needed Season 3 of TOS =/

    3. I needed S3 of TOS... even better... for true nerds... look up the fan film Star Trek Continues series. It's a pretty amazing attempt at fleshing out year 4 and 5 of the original series and transitioning to TMP!

    4. I guess that the trouble with Trimbles.

    5. Ahem. *that's* the trouble with Trimbles. (And that's the trouble with typing too fast to be the first to post what seems like the most obvious low-hanging fruit joke that I'm surprised no one else made).

    6. Without Season 3, there wouldn't have been enough episodes to enter syndication. More people watched Star Trek in reruns than ever watched it during its original run. Reruns are how Star Trek became a cultural icon instead of a poorly remembered sci-fi series like Space:1999.

      Yes, actually, we really did need Season 3. Non-ironically, and without a frowny face.

    7. Even ignoring that, TOS Season 3 had some of the franchise's greatest episodes in it. Also several of the worst, of course, but without S3 we wouldn't have "The Enterprise Incident", "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky" (which would also mean Might And Magic wouldn't exist), "The Tholian Web" or some others.

    8. My other half and I watched the full series not so long ago. We found Season 1 the best by far, Season 2 OK but not nearly the peak it's often claimed to be (for one the Spock/McCoy banter got irritating and formulaic), and Season 3 not nearly as bad as it's often claimed to be. I'd add the elegiac All Our Yesterdays to the list of good S3 episodes; if TOS ended there, instead of with the crummy Turnabout Intruder, that would have helped the rep of S3. (And at least S3 doesn't have The Omega Glory, aka the worst TOS episode of all, and doesn't end with a backdoor pilot for another show.)

    9. Jumping ahead from where I am on the blog because I saw this conversation on the side. I just watched through TOS in order.

      Season 3 grated on my nerves because it's when the Shat started his annoying trademarked acting style. He was perfectly fine in the first two seasons.

      I liked the episodes with Harry Mudd and the episode where they brought down the Nazis.

      I couldn't decide if Spock and McCoy hated or loved each other. The Animated Series didn't help.

      Maybe the movies will be helpful.

      (I'm a TNG person. Didn't watch all of TOS until the past month.)

    10. The "Save Star Trek" campaign didn't actually do much to save the series. What actually saved the series was NBC being owned by RCA, RCA having the patents for color TVs, and Star Trek doing a very good job at selling color TVs. That's even part of why Season 3 wasn't particularly great, NBC was only airing it because they were being forced to and did what they could to make it fail.

    11. @PK Thunder: It's been a while since I watched all of TOS, but worse than "Spock's Brain"? That seems to be the dumbest of all and to me would only not qualify as the worst if you give it points for (unintended) hilarity.

      Regarding ST, I found the reviews/analysis on this site often worth reading and some discussions in the comments interesting:

    12. Shatner has a big problem that he is capable of these amazing multilayered theatrical performances, but he seems to get bored easily. As bad as "Turnabout Intruder" is, you can actually get a good sense of his acting chops as he really does transform himself and convey very different characters when he's playing Kirk, Lester-pretending-to-be-Kirk, Lester-being-herself and Lester-having-completely-lost-it.
      (my main take on Shatner is "He would be a highly respected actor if it weren't for the fact that 1920s german expressionism is not a major style of 1960s television."

    13. @Busca Spock's Brain is bad, but it has an outsized reputation in part because it was the first episode of the third season, and a terrible disappointment to fans who'd worked (fruitfully or not) to bring the show back. It's probably bottom 5, but it didn't make us want to stop watching the way Omega Glory and Way to Eden did -- those were much, much harder to get through -- and it's not stupider than a half-dozen other episodes.

      Spock's Brain is relatively brisk and the sheer bizarreness of it helps to keep it interesting, but Omega Glory is downright offensive in its stupidity, implausibility, and cloying phoniness, and every minute of it is worse than the last. It's padded to hell, and the fact that it starts out OK actually makes it worse -- it hooks us with a somewhat intriguing premise, and then betrays that interest. Plus it was a script that Roddenberry had been pushing for years, one that everyone knew was a stinker yet no one had the backbone to tell him so.

    14. Space: 1999 "poorly remembered"? Get in the sea! ;)

    15. The other kids in my elementary school were very disappointed in my Space: 1999 lunchbox for not being Battlestar Galactica. (Not the one with Edward James Olmos!)

    16. PK Thunder dropping some truth bombs in this thread. I agree wholeheartedly: TOS S3 is not as bad as everyone says. The latter half of S2 is, IMO, worse.

  2. You're about to get to the varsity-level mapping now, but given how many RPGs you have under your belt at this point, I think you'll find it entirely doable. For level 4, gurer'f n gevpx gb znxvat gur sybbe'f havdhr tvzzvpx zhpu rnfvre gb qrny jvgu sebz n znccvat fgnaqcbvag, ohg V rkcrpg lbh'yy or noyr gb svther vg bhg ba lbhe bja. Shaal guvat, gubhtu - zbfg bs gur zncf V'ir frra bayvar unir n srj reebef va gurz sbe guvf sybbe, cebonoyl qhr gb gur pbashfvba pnhfrq ol fnvq tvzzvpx. (vague general advice that you probably won't need)

    However... vs lbh qb eha vagb gebhoyr, gnxr n zbzrag (be gjb, be guerr) gb unir n dhvpx oerngure - pyrne lbhe urnq naq tvir guvatf n punapr gb erfrg. (slightly less vague general advice that you probably won't need either)

  3. I am reading these entries with fondness, as I remember first time around a much younger, and suppose to use a relevant pop-culture reference, Anakin-Skywalker-like Chet didn't really occupy the much more relaxed, contextful, and possibly-most-important - patient - position you now find yourself in (an argument could be made that you are now Obi-Wan Kenobi - congratulations but watch out for battle stations disguised as small moons).If you manage to get through Wizardry 4 and finish it without declaring a blood feud on Roe Adams III and all his descendants, it will really be a mark of how far you've progressed. That said, perhaps for a stretch goal (as it were), mayhaps you can explore the other endings, including the "grandmaster" one?

    1. I have no idea how much is left to this game nor how hard it is. Let's see if I can get to one ending before we talk about multiple ones.

    2. Oh, and while I'd like to agree with your thoughts, I don't think *I've* changed so much as my approach has changed in a way that leaves me more breathing room than before.

      Then again, maybe finishing NetHack and Fate increased my capability for patience.

    3. NetHack and Fate have literally consumed 8% of your total waking hours...

  4. Probably a SCA reference. The latter parts of the game are loaded with SCA references. This map isn’t bad. Next level is a little more difficult. A note on order. Lbh jnag gb qb gur mvttheng orsber uryy.

    1. The Society for Creative Anachronisms, a LARP community Roe Adams and the Trimbles were both members of (as was Richard Garriott, Steve Jackson and a bunch of other big names).

      Cameos from other members will be popping up later in the game, the battle against the Trimbles here was just the first one.

    2. Is there a Richard Garriott based cameo in Wiz4? Lord British? Shamino?

    3. Unfortunately not. Would've been pretty awesome if there was, though.

    4. Thanks for telling me about something I didn't know about which also madee think the world is a better place.

    5. Very influential on the early rpg scene. One of the co-founders, Steve Perrin, worked with Chaosium, giving us RuneQuest, helping out with Call of Cthulhu, and other classics, all of which then went on to influence further developments in rpgs on tables and computers.

  5. "Master/Dragons" (or "Master of Dragons" as it's supposed to be read as) is a level 7 monk, taking its name from DnD1e, back when classes had unique names for each level. Monks went Novice, Initiate, Brother, Disciple, Immaculate, Master, Master of Dragons, Master of the South Wind, Master of the West Wind, Master of the North Wind, Master of the East Wind and Grand Master.

    1. Ah. I encountered Masters of the West Wind on the next level. Weird that they chose just a few (I"m guessing, as there can't be that many more pentagrams) monsters from AD&D class titles.

    2. That was me. Blogger is acting up as it is wont to do.

    3. Slightly messed that comment up - the above list was for the original DnD, but Wizardry 4 uses the titles from ADnD, where Master of Dragons is a level 8 monk, and the full list goes Novice, Initiate, Brother, Disciple, Immaculate, Master, Superior Master, Master of Dragons, Master of the North Wind, Master of the West Wind, Master of the South Wind, Master of the East Wind, Master of Winter, Master of Autumn, Master of Summer, Master of Spring and finally Grand Master of Flowers.

      I'm assuming Roe Adams just threw them in because he liked the monk class and was annoyed you couldn't play as monks in Wizardry (yet).

    4. Were the Masters/Dragons typed like that with the forward slash in place of an "of" in the Player's Handbook or a prior Wizardry game? I'm asking because we've seen a 1-character-wide "of" glyph in this game before, so Masters/Dragons wouldn't actually save any space over Masters(of)Dragons.

    5. Wasn't the whole deal with OG monks that there was just the *one* Master of , and your PC had to go defeat him in single combat to achieve the next level? Not that anybody sane played it that way, but it doesn't seem to be a name that lends itself well to a dungeon mob you'd mow down by the dozens.

    6. stepped pyramidsJuly 7, 2022 at 3:42 AM

      My guess is that the single "of" glyph only works in item names, not monster names, and it wasn't worth the time to modify the engine to support it for just a couple of monsters. It's definitely a reference to the D&D monks, though.

    7. The single "of" glyph may not have existed in the Apple II version (although I lack the ability to verify this), so that's also a thing.

    8. stepped pyramidsJuly 8, 2022 at 2:24 AM

      It's in this version. You can see it in the first screenshot here:

      I dug around in the game files and it looks like the character that's printed as "of" is in fact encoded as a "/" in the data. It seems likely that "Masters/Dragons" was intended to render as "Masters(of)Dragons" but nobody got around to updating the code to do that (the game rather infamously had a lot of production troubles).

  6. stepped pyramidsJuly 6, 2022 at 5:07 PM

    The Cosmic Cube is a gizmo that the Red Skull repeatedly obtains (or tries to). Originally its power was that it could be used to make wishes come true.

  7. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 6, 2022 at 5:37 PM

    > I suppose it's like composing a party of "lion tamers"--sounds cool until you realize they're not very dangerous without their lions.

    This made me laugh out loud; thanks!

    1. 'Look, if I call up the circus and tell them I have a 45-year-old accountant who wants to be a lion tamer, their first question isn't going to be 'Does he have his own hat?''

  8. I've been playing a game called La-Mulana 2 for most of the time you've been covering Werdna (this second run, at least) and many of the same rules apply there too: you really have to pay attention and take notes on every hint found, every key item acquired, and every puzzle left unsolved. Also have to get used to always dying and losing progress, taking some small solace in knowing you've learned something from it.

    Very different genres, but a similarly punishing (though "fair") approach to its many challenges. These updates are helping me stay motivated to finish it.

  9. [7 Priests of Fung]
    [2 Gas Dragons]
    "Five golden riiiiiiiings!!"


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