Sunday, August 18, 2019

Wizardry: Won!

I really wasn't expecting to beat Wizardry this soon. This is going to be a long post.

When I ended my last post, I had just beaten the minibosses on level 4 and gained access to Trebor’s express elevator. This can take you to any level from 4 to 9, and level 9 is just a hop, skip, and rumble away from Werdna’s lair on level 10. My party, which was leveled at ranges from 9 to 11, was not ready for the horrors down there, so I went to level 5 to proceed as I had before, with my goal to be strong enough to hit every treasure room in a single run.

This first run got ended again when Parker got paralyzed from a zombie bite, and I had to have Cant revive him. The mages reached level 10 from the experience.

A second attempt, for the first time in this playthrough, was a total party kill. A group of six mages surprised my party and blasted them with multiple group-targeting spells, killing everyone. Later ports didn’t allow spellcasting (on either side) during surprise rounds, showing that Greenberg and Woodhead knew this was unfair.

On a real machine, this would effectively be a Game Over. The party and their gear are now dead and five levels deep in the dungeon, and could only be retrieved by a party strong enough (and lucky enough) to deal with the thing that killed them in the first place. Even if you could do that, you’d still need to retrieve them with a partial party; the limit of six characters includes dead ones. E.g. – a five member party could retrieve one of them at a time.

Luckily, I had saved and backed up my files two sessions ago as per my own guidelines, so not too much progress was lost. The game does include a backup utility, and I imagine players at the time would have been using it for the same reason.

It didn’t take long to recover my lost progress. In fact, my next run covered more than half of the level, and I only had to end it when Morty got poisoned and Parker had run out of healing magic.

The next try swept the level, and with plenty of HP and SP to spare. Nobody leveled, but I did recover a Long Sword +1, the very first weapon I’d located that was better than the standard Long Swords I bought for my fighters at the start.

Onward to level 6. A corridor in this stage had an in-joke that most versions of Wizardry disabled.

Melee wasn’t much of a problem, but group-hitting spellcasters did take a toll on my HP, which Parker remedied with heal spells, and eventually ran out. A Giant Spider poisoned him, and without any spells to cure it, I had to return to town to recharge. Further attempts were mainly frustrated by spellcasters, but also occasionally by “Medusalizards” who can turn your frontline fighters into stone, and in one case a sprung “Anti-Mage” trap which stoned my mages.

At this point, I decided to put Luke into my frontline instead of Parker. He was still more vulnerable, but with Leather +1 and 50 HP he wasn’t completely fragile, and his Short Sword +1 was capable of hitting twice. It would be better for Luke to fight and Parker to cast combat spells than for Luke to do nothing while Parker fights or casts spells but not both.

Even though I hadn’t been able to sweep level 6, the rewards were clearly diminishing, so I went down to level 7 just to see if I could. I performed about as well as I had in level 6, and with similarly unsatisfying rewards.

Next I tried level 8. Again, the encounters were unrewarding and mostly trivial. Mostly, because the last one with a group of Lifestealers killed Luke with groupcasting spells.

After reviving Luke in town, I tried level 9. I was able to sweep it just fine, with HP and SP to spare. I found multiple treasures, but the only useful one was a Plate Mail + 1, which was considerably less useful now that my most feared enemies were AC-ignoring spellcasters.

At last, I decided to give Level 10 a try. My party was only at level 11-12, and my spellcasters hadn't yet learned the highest spell circle, but I just wanted to test the waters, knowing I had a backed-up save from less than half an hour ago. I went down to level 9 and entered the chute near the start.


Werdna’s lair is linear, provided you understand his clue CONTRA DEXTRA AVENUE. It’s nothing more than a series of passages and treasure rooms, each one with two teleporters; one on the right which takes you back to the beginning, and another one that takes you forward. This place is home to the scariest monsters in Wizardry, but also to the most XP return and to the best treasures. Rock walls are everywhere, so you REALLY don’t want to spring a teleporter trap here.

The first encounter was with Will O’ Wisps.

These guys have no spells or special abilities, but they have lots of HP, 95% spell resistance, and -8 AC. So I simply had Parker reduce my party’s AC with Bamatu and then whacked at them with my frontline men while they mostly failed to hit me back.

The XP reward was substantial.

And the treasure was scary.

Against my better judgement, I had Luke disarm it, and thankfully he was successful.

Other encounters during this run included:
  • Fire giants – Hard hitting melee fighters who usually go down with two or three casts of the group-targeting ice spell Madalto.
  • Priests of various levels, who aren’t too bad but sometimes can hurt your party with group-targeting spells or can silence your spellcasters. Silence them right back and beat them up with your fighters.
  • Vampires, who cast powerful group-targeting spells, have lots of HP, 70% spell resistance, and can drain levels with melee. Better use the undead-busting Zilwan spell.
  • Dragons, whose breath attack hits everyone and does damage proportional to how much HP they have left. Target them with Madalto ASAP to reduce their bad breath potential.

I made it far enough that the next encounter would be Werdna, but I was dying to find out what the haul from this run was, so I finally disregarded his advice and took the right-side teleporter and went back home.

The payoff was big. Luke and Parker both reached level 12, and my mages were pretty close as well. Good loot included Silver Gloves for Charles, a Short Sword +2 for Luke, and a Dagger +2 for Bo which was marginally better than the Staff +2 that he would basically never have to use in the first place.

I decided I’d do this process again. No point in exploring levels 5-9 anymore. One of the monsters I encountered for the first time were poison giants, who are oddly considered to be a level 1 enemy despite having modestly high stats. They were easily dispatched with Lakanito, which instantly kills low-level enemies, and had grand XP payoff.

My fighters reached level 13, and my mages reached level 12. Worthwhile loot included a Mace + 2 for Parker and a Dagger + 2 for Sam.

I decided that I’d go for Werdna, and that from now on, I’d ignore all treasure.

I returned to level 10, fully charged, and went on the path to Werdna’s quarters. This was cut short when I got surprise attacked by 5 Level 8 Bishops and a High Wizard who wiped out everyone but my two fighters with multiple group-targeting spells.

Attempt 2 got me surprise attacked by poison giants who killed everyone with multiple poison breath attacks. I reloaded back to the point after my first successful return, with no real progress lost.

Attempt 3 got some characters killed in level 9 in the chute room, as multiple unidentified “Strange Animals” used breath attacks on my whole party.

Attempt 4 had me surprised by Greater Demons, possibly the deadliest monsters in the game, who, once again, used group-targeting spells and killed most of my party.

Attempt 5 started off with a good omen.

Obviously I allowed Werdna’s friendly minions to leave in peace.

But in the next room, Luke got killed in a fight with a very large number of “Bleebs” and some mages. I tried to resurrect him with a Di spell, but this failed and reduced him to ash. So I had to retreat and have Kant revive him for a very hefty copay.

Attempt 6 had no nasty surprise encounters, and I was diligent about targeting spellcasters and breathers with Madalto. The penultimate fight was against four thieves just who fled in terror.

And finally, I was at Werdna’s doormat.

I had Parker heal everyone, using up most of his spell points, and reviewed my high-end spells.

  • Mabadi – A really powerful one. Sets one monster’s HP to 1d8, with no chance of resistance.
  • Lorto – 6d6 damage to a group. Not great, not terrible.
  • Loktofeit – Low chance of teleporting the group back to the castle, at the cost of all gear.

  • Zilwan – Massive damage to a single undead monster.
  • Lakanito – Kills all monsters in a group, giving them a chance of [Level * 6%] to resist. Nearly useless given that his minions were all at least level 10 and don’t come in big groups.

  • Masopic – Reduces AC of party by 4. Little use against spellcasters.

In addition, both Bo and Sam each had one cast left of Madalto, which does 8d8 of cold damage to a group.

I kicked down Werdna's door.

I had my frontline all target the Man in Robes, obviously Werdna, and had Parker target him with a Mabadi. With any luck, at least one of my melee fighters would hit Werdna after the Mabadi and finish him off. Bo targeted the Unseen Entity with a Zilwan, and Sam cast Madalto on the group of vampires.

Luke went first and pinpricked Werdna. Parker landed his Mabadi right afterward.

Bo zapped the Unseen Entity out of its unnatural existence.

Werdna cast his spell, but thankfully it wasn’t the dreaded Tiltowait – it didn’t seem to do anything. Morty then landed his killing blow.

Eat it, you scrawny tchotchke-swiping dungeon dork!

The vampires retaliated with group-targeting spells. Finally, Sam killed one vampire with Madalto, damaged a second, and the third resisted.

This was, frankly, an amazingly lucky round. My party was damaged but still alive. If Werdna had cast Tiltowait, or if Bo hadn’t acted against the Unseen Entity fast enough, or if the Vampires had just done a bit more damage, or if any of the vampires had attacked in melee and landed draining blows, or if this had been a surprise encounter, then I’d probably be multiple party members down if not totally annihilated.

There were two vampires left. I had my fighters attack, Parker cast Bamatu, and Bo cast Madalto, and this killed one of the vampires. The second attacked and missed. One more round of just fighting, and it died too, leaving the amulet.

There was no obvious way out of Werdna’s lair, but luckily, using the amulet teleports your party, which works fine here as long as you’re leaving the level.

The teleport menu. Take care, you can screw up bad here.

Trebor's got a nice racket in the Apple II version

Sure enough, everyone was stripped of their equipment and gold, but everyone had also gained a level from the experience. My fighters were level 14, and everyone else level 13.

I wasn’t quite done with Wizardry 1. Without my items, I couldn’t use the express elevator in level 4 anymore, but I didn’t need to. My mages knew the teleport spell Malor now. I Malor’d down, and won a few fights down there with my naked party just so I could get some good equipment again. Fred came in handy again for the free item identifications, since I was too broke to pay Boltac to do it.

After gearing up, I headed to the training grounds to do something I had meant to do from the start – change classes! Charles, Morty, and Luke became mages, so that they would learn spells, and the fighters would keep their heightened HP. I would have switched Parker instead of Luke, but his strength just wasn’t high enough. Luke would just have to live with being a squishy wizard for now. Parker, Sam, and Bo became fighters in order to train their HP – they didn’t forget any of their spells, but their spell points were reduced to about half. This left me without a thief, but I wanted a power team.

I went down to Werdna’s Lair, and had a surreal encounter where my low level fighters in the front cast high-end spells while my high-HP mages in the rear parried uselessly. I cast Calfo on their treasure to identify it – just a gas bomb, so I opened it and ate the poison, knowing I could stand the HP drain and cure it if necessary. I ran this area a few times with this strategy, avoiding teleporters, but triggering less deadly traps such as alarms and sometimes mage blasters, whose effects could still be cured by Priest-Fighter Parker. I’d retreat to the castle after a fight or two – my new mages were quite useless, and my former spellcasters’ somewhat reduced reserves could only last so long.

XP rewards down here are very uneven, as are relative threat levels and relations to each other. High Wizards, who can obliterate your party in groups are only worth 2,400 XP each, while mostly harmless Will O’ Wisps and easily killed Frost and Poison giants are worth over 40,000 XP each. Those high-XP monsters all have 95% Spell Resistance, which goes a long way toward XP payoff, but does nothing to defend against Lakanito. It didn’t take long at all for my party to reach level 9. Interestingly, my mage-turned-fighters continued learning spells when they leveled up!

And with that, I decided to stop playing Wizardry 1. I have Wizardry II to look forward to eventually, and once I get there, I’ll transfer my overpowered party and quite possibly blaze through it.

The first time I ever beat Wizardry, I felt at the time that it must have been rushed; the first four levels were designed well, and the tenth served its purpose as a marathon / final puzzle, but the levels in between suffered from a lack of content. There was just no reason to fully explore them, because they didn’t contain anything worth finding.

This replay, I think, reinforced this feeling. Not only did the first four levels have things in them to make exploration worthwhile, but the levelling curve was smooth and enjoyable, with the dungeons past the first becoming satisfyingly more difficult, riskier, and granting better rewards for your courage. Level 5 was, in spite of two failed sweep attempts, too easy, though I might have also been overleveled for it. But on levels 6 through 9, the XP rewards were just too small to be worth my party’s time, especially considering the risk of being surprised by mages, ninjas, or basilisks, which could be deadly for any party. Even with detailed knowledge aforehand of gameplay mechanics, to my great advantage, most of these trips ended quickly, and each character only leveled up once from the XP gained from all of those stages combined.

Reportedly, Woodhead and Greenberg used in-game player metrics during playtesting, to tweak level design and monster stats in the name of better gameplay balance. This shows a huge amount of foresight considering that typical games of this era often weren’t playtested at all. If this game was rushed as I suspect, then I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the underdesigned levels from 5-9 also skipped that playtesting phase. The express elevator, which can take you directly from level 5 to level 9 (and right next to the chute to level 10) may have even been added precisely because they knew these levels weren’t really worth visiting.

Overall, I’m glad that I replayed Wizardry, and I’m looking forward to replaying the sequels, eventually. The Apple II version does have a unique look and feel, albeit a primitive one, with its tiny wireframe window, and frequent use of all-text screens. The primitive look reinforces the feeling of playing a personal computer game largely developed in 1979, rather than one whose presentation layer was developed in 1984, an eternity later in personal computing years. Other differences I’ve noticed, compared to later versions (especially the DOS version), were:
  • When leveling up in the Apple II version, stats seem to go up much more often than they do in the DOS version.
  • Surprise encounters in later ports don’t allow the ambushing party to cast spells. This goes for both sides. Here, there is no such restriction. This is hugely beneficial to you when your party does the surprising; you can wipe out a good chunk of the enemy forces without giving them any chance to retaliate. But when the enemy surprises you, and the encounter includes moderately powerful spellcasters, expect a total party kill.

But lastly, playing with my reduced-savescumming policy really did transform how Wizardry is played. When I first played in DOS, I’d back up my saves every time I returned to the castle, and restore them whenever something I didn’t like happened. Before that, when I played the translated SNES version, I’d even quicksave during combat, just to ensure that each round turned out the way I wanted it to. This time, barring the total party kills, I’d have to live with the consequences of bad decisions or bad luck. I never had to permanently abandon a party member, but the specter of that outcome always loomed over my shoulder. Characters suffered paralysis and worse. Sometimes I’d have two party members crawling back to town, beaten and burned within an inch of their lives, dragging the lifeless hulks of their comrades with them, and I’d have to spend lots of money on resurrections which cost them stats and weren’t guaranteed to work. It wasn’t always a pleasant experience, but it was a new one.

Wizardry, along with Ultima, was among the first RPGs covered by CRPG Addict. He concluded his playthrough with a list of Wizardry's accomplishments, but hadn't, at the time, had played any of the PLATO games that influenced it. I think it would be apt to revisit this list and see how it holds up, considering the lineage of pedit5 -> dnd -> Moria -> Oubliette -> Wizardry.
  • Multiple characters - Done by Moria first, but Wizardry alone put you in control of multiple characters.
  • XP and leveling - Oubliette's contribution. Pedit5 sort of resembles the modern approach, but the gold->XP conversion mechanic makes play very different in practice; there, you mainly level by finding treasure, rather than by grinding enemies.
  • Multiple foes - Moria's the first, but the concept was half-baked. Oubliette allowed multiple foes to act independently of one another, and Wizardry followed.
  • Magic system - Oubliette's magic system is an order of magnitude more complex than anything before it, and Wizardry followed closely, but not exactly.
  • Priest/mage spell dichotomy - Oubliette's contribution, though pedit5/dnd also separated these spells, it just made them all available to all characters. Lawrence's DND had this dichotomy independently of Wizardry and Oubliette.
  • Tactical combat - Wizardry's combat is much more tactical than Moria or anything before it. Only Oubliette's might be comparable, but being multiplayer I can only speculate.
  • Multiple equipment types - Moria's contribution, though dnd/pedit5 also had magic gear in a more primitive manner.
  • Unidentified items - Oubliette. This was also found in Rogue, where it played a much bigger obstacle in gameplay.
  • Cursed items - Oubliette and Rogue.
  • D&D races/classes - Oubliette.
  • Alignment - Oubliette.
  • Class changing - Wizardry, as far as I can tell. Oubliette lets you change guilds, but I have no idea what the benefits or drawbacks are.

From that list, it does look like much of Wizardry's list of accomplishments have to be credited to Oubliette. And yet, Wizardry did something that Oubliette could not - it made all of that work in an offline, singleplayer environment, and therefore, created a free-standing product that anyone can play and experience in its entirety. Moreso, it crammed all of these mechanics onto a 140kb floppy disk playable on a 48kb computer, without really compromising anything.

Wizardry is, therefore, the earliest RPG I've played that I can unequivocally call a good game. It's not a perfect game by any means - much of the dungeon is pointless, there are balance issues galore, the interface is clumsy even compared to other Apple II games, and it can be unfairly harsh at times. But it's got lots more substance and depth than anything in the dndlike line, it's got a good ratio of content to its size, the challenge is usually satisfying, and I wasn't bored even once.

Although I’m done playing Wizardry 1, I’m far from done writing about it. There’s a treasure trove of data in Wizardry, far more than in any game I’ve played for Data Driven Gamer to date, save perhaps for Oubliette, and then only perhaps.


  1. "Onward to level 6. A corridor in this stage had an in-joke that most versions of Wizardry disabled."

    Do you have the details on the in-joke? I don't know what is supposed to be happening here.

    1. I'm guessing that it's one of Andrew Greenberg's D&D parties making a cameo appearance. Just a guess, I'm not in on the joke either.

    2. It's a reference to the cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian.

    3. Never heard of it before, but I recognize it in stills. Always assumed it was He-Man.

    4. and in Thundaar itself the name "Ookla" is reputed to be a reference to UCLA.

  2. It seems like one article I read on Wizardy stated that the barren levels from 5-9 were left widely open due to lack of memory and the need for an extra disc, which was cost prohibitive.

    Looking forward to your continued analysis!

  3. I've beaten the NES version of Wizardry I and enjoyed it, but the NES port of the second game kind of suffers due to not being able to import the party from the first game.

  4. re: the teleporter trap on the first chest of level 10 -- back when I played my not-so-skilled rogue sprung the trap, but I ended up landing right next to Werdna's lair, so it worked out anyway.

    1. Do you remember which version you were playing? This happened to CRPG Addict too, with the DOS version. But I revisited level 10 since publishing this post (after backing up saves), and also sprang a teleporter trap. What happened was that I got "bounced" to level 1, same as if you cast Malor here.

  5. I loved some good ole Thundarr... early 80s at its best... or worst... which is probably the same in this case.

  6. I had a different experience playing and winning this game with friends at 13 from 1981 to 1982 without any maps, cheat programs, or any knowledge of the Bishop glitch. Having to map the levels on your own, learning to use Dumapic, and never knowing what was around the next corner was a big part of the fun. I didn't consider any of the levels pointless because the exploration and creating accurate maps of all 10 levels was as big of an accomplishment as defeating Werdna. IMHO, playing the game with finished maps wouldn't be nearly as interesting as doing it yourself from scratch.

    I do remember being destroyed by groups of spell casters who surprised our party or annihilating groups of monsters we surprised. The Knight of Diamonds was probably a more balanced game, it was much easier to me but our characters were pretty high level. There were a lot of Friday after school to Sunday marathon sessions.

    I don't think we would have ever completed the game without backing up the characters after every expedition.

    1. It's always great to hear the first-hand experiences of people who played these games when they were new - no matter how accurate emulators get, and no matter how disciplined a modern gamer is about avoiding spoilers, cheats, modern conveniences, and not minding dated graphics and interfaces, there's always a cultural zeitgeist that you can never truly recreate.

      FWIW, I also did my own mapping, but I did it with Excel and the modern convenience of Windows multitasking, and the process of backing up the character disk was made as simple as copying a file. I think the thing that made the biggest difference between playing it in 2019 and what playing in 1981 would have been like, though, is that for me, I have limitless games to move on to, while in 1981 I would have been limited to whatever had been made for the Apple II at the time, and based on my experience not much of it is half as good as Wizardry. I spent maybe two weeks playing this game, but I'll bet that if I had played it back in the day, it would have lasted me months.

  7. I remember owning this game back in '81 and going to the local college to play in their computer lab on Friday nights which was the only time someone who wasn't in the college taking CompSci could get access. I was 13. After I bought my Apple ][+ with 48K of memory I grinded on this game for months. On total party kills I would open the door to the floppy drive and then restart, recovering my party with the utility because I couldn't afford buying floppy disks for backups. I beat the game once and played KoD for a little while before switching over to the Ultima games which were more forgiving and fun.
    I think Wizardry was the source of my adolescent anxiety. :-)
    I came across my maps from the game a few years back along with my notebooks for both Wizardry and Ultima. Nothing like games nowadays. No auto-mapping, password and hint storing, or GPS like direction finding.
    I'm glad I found your site - I've been reading CRPG Addict and Digital Antiquarian for years, and I'm enjoying your take on these games very much. Keep up the great work!!


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