Part 4: The Catacombs
I'm anxious to see the next floor, if only to see what new and exciting bullshit it has in store.
The most exciting bullshit will start from the next floor on. The first two are just a warm-up.
In the last screenshot of the first update, there was a question mark which I said stood for a unique NPC who goes around the floor on his own patrol route. I also promised we'd "catch" him as soon as we could. On our way back to the stairs, we finally manage to do just that by entering the tile he's currently occupying.
The NPC is The Wandering Oracle of Mron, and, in a Proteus-like manner, he will only answer to someone who can capture him. Trapping him isn't as easy as it may sound, as most of the time he'll be doing his best to avoid you while at the same time being a tease by often passing right near you yet outside your grasp.
Incidentally, it means that, in contrast to the first title, Wizardry IV actually has NPCs. In fact, they were already introduced in a similar role in Wizardry II and III. There is, however, no NPC "interaction" here in the manner we've grown accustomed to over the years as the genre transformed; they are only there to give you a riddle, a clue, or a quest, and you can't question them further. Some of the non-player characters in Wizardry IV are crucial to your progress, and some are optional so that you don't even have to encounter them in order to beat the game. There will be particularly many of them in the end game, for a reason that will become clear when we get there. Many NPCs can be either hostile or non-hostile depending on the actions you take. Even the apparently harmless Oracle can become hostile under certain circumstances to be shown off later.
When captured, the Oracle responds with "It's a fair cop", which is just one of Wizardry IV's references to Monty Python, at once to Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975; where a woman falsely accused of being a witch says under her breath, "It's a fair cop") and to episode 29 of Monty Python's Flying Circus (1972; "All right, it's a fair cop, but society is to blame.") There are at least two other Monty Python references in the game that I can think of off the top of my head. Apparently, what Star Trek was to Might and Magic, Monty Python was to Wizardry IV.
For "only" 2500 gold pieces, the Oracle can provide an extremely obscure clue meant to help you solve the game's numerous unfair puzzles. The clues he gives are, however, so obscure that they are puzzles unto themselves. After all, this is an "expert level scenario."
Not really related, but I've recently come across an old interview with Brenda Garneau, now Brenda Brathwaite, John Romero's girlfriend and a notable Wizardry designer who was one of the playtesters on Wizardry IV:
Brenda Brathwaite posted:
They sat me at an Apple II, and gave me a finished but buggy alpha version of the game. Norm Sirotek, the president here, tells me that the game is 'expert level.' Naturally, considering that it's my job to know more than the rest of the planet about Wizardry, I figure: "cakewalk." I was super wrong, but man, I did not let that game get the better of me. I think I would have died of thirst and starvation first. They wouldn't tell me anything about it or give me a single hint on any of the puzzles. I finally finished it a couple weeks later. I think I was ticked off at the design team and half the office for the next two weeks, though.
Now this is someone who obviously had relatively little problem figuring out the Oracle's clues. My first Wizardry IV playthrough took me months. Many months. What can I say? Beware, John Romero! Brenda will make you her bitch.
With the Oracle, you get two payment options: cash or "charge card." We don't have a credit card yet, and even when we get one later, charging it isn't going to be the best option.
But I'm not spoiling it more than that just yet.
Naturally, you are free to leave the Oracle without receiving a clue if you don't need one. If, however, you choose the option to pay him when you don't have enough gold, he threatens you with "It is not a wise idea to short-change an oracle, buddy!" I'll try showing off that line when and if we're low on cash.
For now, however, let's pay the Oracle to receive our first clue.
The clues come in a fixed sequence, and there's a limited amount of them. The first clue, the one we've just received, recently provoked a strong reaction in a certain CRPG blogger:
CRPG Addict posted:
&*$# the "oracle," who took 2,500 of my gold to tell me that "the egress will set you free." Oh, really?! The exit is the way out? Who would have guessed?
However, even though the first clue won't really be of help to us in our current progress through the lowest dungeon floors, it is in fact going to be vital when we are going to be trapped, with no apparent way out, later. Much later. In general, whenever you have enough gold, you shouldn't refuse buying a hint from the Oracle, and you should do that until you exhaust the clue list. The clues he provides are essential, and gold isn't really of much use in Wizardry IV, as there are no shops where you could buy equipment. To be fair, there is a certain end game event that requires a certain sum to be readily available, but you will most likely have more than plenty of gold by that point anyway.
As soon as we take the stairs up to B9F, the game's peculiar form of copy protection kicks in.
Wizardry IV has a rather unusual form of copy protection. It asks you to validate a Mordor Charge Card, the in-game jokey equivalent of a credit card, before you can access a new level. And not just once, but, if I remember correctly, for every new dungeon level you climb (or maybe just for the first few).
Back in the day, the player had to turn to the "valid card list" included in the package for the answer. Without it, he or she could only play through the first floor, which I guess amounted to the game having a "demo."
The card validation list came in the form of a bulletin, of which the title page is given above, and was printed on dark red paper to make photocopying more difficult. Not a problem nowadays, obviously, even if it still hurts the eye reading it.
There is, however, a trick to the card validation algorithm that, once figured out, made it unnecessary to have the validation list handy and possible to copy the game without worrying too much about copy protection. It turned out the correct answer to the card validation question wasn't random; rather, it could be computed in some way from the three numbers given. The following solution was posted in Computist #51 (January 1988):
Apparently, a sum modulo 9000 is involved, but I can't say how the table itself was compiled by the author of the solution.
Another item included in the package was an actual copy of a Mordor Charge Card. It was more of a promotional item than anything really necessary or helpful, and to this day remains a collector's item first and foremost. The number on the front of the card is unique to each boxed copy of the game.
Higher floor means stronger enemies, of course, as well as another dungeon gimmick.
B9F, as all Wizardry IV dungeon levels except maybe the starting one, is in the first place an exercise in perseverance. In fact, perseverance is Wizardry IV's second name. Robert Woodhead once described* the game as a "puzzle dungeon" that is basically one "giant trap" where "each level or set of levels has a theme that you can use, if you understand what's going on, to help you solve the level." Like B10F, B9F is symmetrical (which is going to change real soon, because "symmetrical" means "too easy" in the language Wizardry IV uses), and this time it's a spiral-like symmetry. It doesn't help, however, that not only do you have to blindly stumble into quite a few side rooms full of random encounters (that will likely strip you of remaining monster allies) before you discover the one and only pentagram on the floor, but there is also an inconspicuously placed secret door at (13,14) that you must pass through in order to find the exit. It's going to cost you considerable time and effort (and many deaths) to discover them both, especially the damn door.
* In an interview found in Questbusters IV-3, March 1987.
Another trick is not to follow the main corridor into the central room: the fixed encounters at (9,8) and (10,9) are guaranteed to wipe you out at this point. You're only supposed to visit the area much later, so I won't spoil what's in there just now; suffice it to say it is a plot-critical area, and if you forget to visit it at a certain point, you're basically screwed. For now, however, instead of simply following the corridor, you're supposed to discover and enter the aforementioned secret door -- just don't forget you can only notice it with Milwa on.
B9F only features one pentagram, but luckily the main corridor has a lower encounter rate than the side rooms, so you can backtrack without too much pain. There are also several symmetrically located square-shaped fixed encounter areas marked by the sword symbols on the map, but only one of them, at (19,0), lands an item relevant to the plot. Good lucking fighting pointlessly through the other ones.
For all the problems you might encounter here, B9F is, along with B10F, one of the easiest levels in Wizardry IV. The first two floors are basically what the game understands to be tutorial level difficulty.
Beautiful, isn't it?
(Wait, don't answer that.)
B9F is called The Catacombs, so I assume that means the side rooms are burial places.
I also assume they're chock full of do-gooders because everybody knows RPG heroes are distinguished grave robbers.
Equipped with meta-gaming knowledge, we hurry to the pentagram.
Some interesting, as well as stronger and more varied, monsters here to choose from. Creeping Cruds are an updated version of the Slimes, resistant to cold and capable of poisoning the enemy; they have 3d4 HP, which is alright at this stage, but overall they just aren't particularly exciting to have at your side. "Creeping Cruds" is one cool monster name, though. Crawling Kelps are strange plant monsters first introduced in Wizardry III, who also look funny in the IBM PC version, possessing 2d5 HP and no particular abilities. (A random bit of trivia: Crawling Kelp is a lvl3 monster, and interestingly enough, in an arcade action-RPG Cadash (1989) there is a level 3 boss called "Crawling Kelp," a seemingly peaceful plant hanging from the ceiling that attacks you with its thorny vines as soon as you get near it.) Next, Mummies are the undead monsters who also originated in the third Wizardry title. They may not have many hit points and are in constant danger of being dispelled by a stray do-gooder Priest, but they have one extremely useful ability that makes them worth the risk: their regular attack, which rarely misses against this floor's do-gooders, can level-drain the enemy. Level-draining monsters were definitely the ones the player feared most in the previous Wizardry games. It is therefore only natural to assume that, the roles being reversed now, they are among the best ones to summon. A level drain does not seem to strip the do-gooder spellcasters of higher-level spells, but it reduces the enemy's HP by a sizeable amount and overall makes them significantly weaker and easier to kill. All in all, you can't go wrong with a good old level drain.
Next are Witches, yet another group of Wizardry III evil beings who went by the name of "women in robes" when unidentified. They always come in a group of 7 when summoned, which favorably contrasts with just one measly Lvl 1 Mage you could summon at the previous pentagram, and are capable of casting 2nd tier Mage spells and inflicting poison. They also have a reasonable amount of hit points, but Werdna already has the Mage spells covered so we don't really need any more spellcasters in the party. Poltergeists, as well as Rogues and Anacondas (also arriving straight from Wizardry III), have no special abilities at all, and thus aren't worth bothering with. No-See-Um Swarm, or just No-See-Ums, come from Wizardry II. No-See-Ums are insects that have a highly useful breath attack targeting the entire enemy party. There are always nine of them when summoned, and their AC equals 0, which is very nice; after all, it isn't easy even for a trained fighter to hit a bunch of insects with his sword. It's also pretty fun to have a swarm of deadly, small, mean-looking (Apple II, PC) flies at your side. Do-gooders will think twice before troubling us now! (They won't. Do-gooders attack first, think second.) Ashers are ghostly entities capable of inflicting paralysis. They have relatively high AC of six and don't hit too hard, but paralysis is a nifty thing that generally makes them worth summoning. Dusters, shadow figures from Wizardry III, have the strongest regular attack among this pentagram's monsters, hitting two times per round for 2d3 points of damage, so I guess you might want to summon them if you're looking for some heavy-hitters. Not the best, but a feasible option nevertheless. Huge spiders are Wizardry I monsters that, as is customary with spiders, have a chance of inflicting poison when their attack connects.
Finally, Lvl 3 Priests, being Priests, are a must to summon. The new, 2nd tier spells they have at their disposal are Matu, or Blessing, which reduces the monster group's AC by 2; Manifo, or Statue, which attempts to paralyze the entire adventurer party, one by one; and Montino, or Still Air, a silence spell that causes the air around the hapless do-gooder party to stop transmitting sound and therefore makes it impossible for them to even speak their spells.
Having leveled up at this pentagram, Werdna can cast 2nd tier Mage spells now. Those are Dilto, the Darkness spell, and Sopic, the Glass spell, and I already covered them in the first update.
We go with Mummies, No-See-Ums and Priests, pretty much a perfect combination.
It doesn't take long for the Mummies to prove their worth. Tyron initially had 19 HP, but after a level drain he only has 5 HP left and goes down in a single turn.
There are two randomly wandering do-gooder parties on this floor: Talon's Tigers (their motto is, appropriately, "Roar!!!") and Greyhawk's Ghostbusters, but I haven't encountered them yet. The Tigers (1 Lord, 3 Fighters, a Thief, and a Mage, all roughly the same level as we are) are easy to defeat, but the Ghostbusters are not. The latter party, their motto being "Bell Werdna!", consists of both high-level fighters and high-level spellcasters who are well above our current capabilities. It's a good thing we haven't met them; they don't even drop any useful loot anyway. As for the Tigers, they drop a Cone of Silence, or "dunce cap," when defeated, an item that would allow us to cast Montino. We'll probably get it later.
There is also a solo do-gooder on B9F who can be quite dangerous. His name is Raistlin and he's a low-HP Mage yet with a powerful offensive spell at his disposal. The spell is Lahalito, or Flame Storm, and it sets an entire monster group on fire for 6d6 points of damage.
Let's now have a look at B9F's regular fixed encounters.
At (3,15), we enter a fight with The Tower Sentries. They are the weakest among the fixed battles in any given square-shaped encounter area on this floor.
They also have a typical sentry motto. If that can even be called a motto.
An all-Fighter group, the Sentries consist of five Privates accompanied by a Corporal. Being Fighters, a good half of them -- those standing in the back row -- have to Parry against us during the round, which basically makes them no more than target practice for our spells.
In other news, Katino (sleep) still remains the most useful spell against weaker enemies.
The next tile has us battle The Tower Guards, a tougher bunch of do-gooder guardians.
With a more ambitious motto, too.
These consist of five Corporals and a Sergeant. All Fighters again, but higher level. The Sergeant in particular hits pretty hard.
And the final of the fixed encounters has us pitted against The Officer's Mess.
Let's see... a hundred year old wizard, a few mummies, several evil priests, and an insect swarm. Nope, no busboy-lookalikes here, I'm afraid.
Now this is the real deal. No wonder I died here. (Not only here, but here too.)
The Officer's Mess are for the most part pure Fighters again, but the Captain is a Samurai, meaning he is capable of casting Mage spells. Katino is in particular his favorite.
The Captain drops a Twilight Cloak after we finally manage to defeat him. It reduces the wearer's AC by 1, and you can also "invoke" it after it has been equipped, which increases Werdna's to-hit chance.
Invoking is a mechanic often used in Wizardry IV. Equipping an item may not be enough to reveal its powers, and many items only confer a particular bonus or ability when invoked, which is done separately from equipping them. For instance, the Black Candle we picked up on B10F must be not only equipped, but also invoked in order for it to cast a Lomilwa spell. Basically, "invoking" amounts to using a magically charged item in contrast to ordinary, non-magical items that you simply "use". We'll witness this mechanic many times in this LP; it is frequently required to solve various plot-critical puzzles. An item can also break when invoked, so it should be done with care.
Next thing we do is battle our way through to (18,0) to acquire an important item.
You have obtained A STONE.
This is the second precious stone we've found so far, a Lander's Turquoise. Lander Blue turquoise is a real thing, and apparently it is the most valuable turquoise in the world, produced in the Lander Blue mine in Nevada.
It is also magical, and glows when invoked!
With Light on, we have no trouble getting into the secret passage at (13,14).
Next floor awaits. And this is where real bullshit begins.
Next time, we'll die the death of a thousand cuts. Stay tuned.