Baranor’s Den returns, with an intense focus on the Wizard. The column starts off with a continuation of the short story begun last time, then delves into coverage of the mage or wizard type of character as seen in all sorts of fantasy. How does Blizzard’s Diablo III version of the character stack up?  Click through to see the full column.

    Of Wands and Wizards

    Our story begins here, twenty miles from Castle Krag, where our weary travelers stopped to rest. The morning had passed into afternoon and all of its freshness had long since been burned away under the relentless sun. Here, Arrakan stopped, turned to his fellow travelers and suggested they hold up for a little while to rest and regain their strength. Castle Krag was twenty more miles ahead and even with forced marching it would be late in the evening before they reached it. Sylvie made a small cooking fire, picked up a good young stick and stuck it through the rabbit to cook their lunch.

    “So, why do you think Lord Krag summoned us to his castle? He’s going to pay a harsh fee for getting us to go up north like this.”

    Arrakan’s voice sounded somewhat rasped because of the heat and the dry sand. Seven days of marching did nothing for his temperament either and his feet were beginning to get more than a little bit sore. It was hardly surprising that Gerard, the “Holy Man” as Arrakan oft called him, snapped an answer back rather than being polite.

    “He certainly did not invite us for stupidity like that. Krag has a problem, and we all know what this problem is: The walking dead are harassing him and his castle. He’ll want us to root that out. Besides, why in the name of the Lord do you ask the same question you have asked for six straight days in a row?”

    “Because you give a different answer every time we talk about it. Yesterday you said it had something to do with his wife, the day before that a powerful wizard was supposed to be harassing Lord Krag, the day before that it was the blood of his ancestors that was cursed, and the day before that one of the Three was involved.”

    Before Gerard could answer Joseph smacked his staff on the ground and blew up a cloud of dust. His voice, carrying the weight of wisdom and age, acidly pointed out the obvious to Arrakan.

    “Perhaps Gerard is right in all these things. Perhaps his wife, the Lady Esmeralda Krag, comes from a cursed bloodline, the same line that gave birth to Lord Krag himself. Perhaps Esmeralda Krag and Lord Krag are cousins, once removed. Perhaps Esmeralda Krag is a wizard, and perhaps she is summoning the undead to destroy Lord Krag. Perhaps she gains most of her necromantic powers from consulting with the Three. And perhaps you two fools can stop arguing until we get there and start to do something useful like Sylvie, who at least is making something to eat. Until we get to castle Krag we will not know for certain what is happening and how. Our judgment and therefore the course of action we have to take is unclear presently.”

    Arrakan took a bite off one of an only partly cooked leg of the rabbit, started chewing and then started to speak.

    “Buf whaf if Lord Kraf waf enchantef by hif wife to summon us? Whaf if…”

    Joseph raised his voice and made a somewhat theatrical gesture with his staff.

    “Impolite sword-wielding-good-for-nothing and illiterate buffoon. Stop talking. You are as always impatient and noisesome. Perhaps you should finish eating before you try to utter more sounds from your mouth. Bah! Revolting. And if you will not be silent, I shall cast a spell of silence on you and shut your mouth forever.”

    Arrakeen, who had been with Joseph longer than the others, knew that the threat was not to be taken serious but he still decided that discretion might be the better part of valor. Sometimes it was good to admit you were being outclassed.

    Ah, the wizard. The wizard, archetype of magical power, of knowledge unheard, and time spent in debate and study. Most, if not all people, at one or other point in their life want to perform some sort of magical act. “If only I could enchant that girl/boy…” The fantasy wizard is something else altogether of course. He commands the elemental forces of nature, the powers of the sea, the wind and air, strange metaphysical energies and creatures from beyond the grave and beyond the boundaries of known space. And most importantly of all, the wizard need never fear he’s without a barbecue… he can toss fireballs at something and rest assured that it turns into a black, charred piece of meat.

    Historically speaking, wizards have been everywhere, yet substantial evidence is hard to find. Mythological figures like Circe and Merlin are present, and one of the most well-known ones is the Wizard of Oz, but he’s not really “historical”. However, if one of them really existed and actually had exceptional powers nobody knows. Modern day magicians like Hans Klok or David Copperfield perform tricks, but these are not the same as “real” magic. Funny that… real magic does not exist so it seems. In movies we see a lot of evidence of magic and magical acts. First and foremost amongst those wizards is Gandalf, Wizard in Lord of the Rings and his counterpart Saruman. Gandalf and Saruman struggle with forces not understood by the normal folks in LoTR. Then there’s Harry Potter, boy-wizard and pupil at a school for wizardry. There are a boatload of other wizards, from evil wizards like the one in “Dungeons and Dragons”, to good witches of Oz, and wicked witches of the East.

    Speaking of Dungeons and Dragons for a lot of us old-timers who played the pen and paper game, our first encounter with the ways of wizardry was the Wizard, or the Elf, if you rolled really good stats. First and foremost was always the fact that a Wizard is someone schooled in magic. He needs to study, learn hard and devote himself to a life of books, vile concoctions and reeking ingredients. Dragons claw? Check. Goats stomach? Check. Graveyard dust? Check. Stir in a kettle of water, let it boil for at least five days whilst adding Toad-tongue and some Nightshade and you have a potion of absolute icky that also turns you invisible for a while. Of course, the Frozen Orb casting sorceresses and Chain Lighting hurling Sorcerers of Diablo are a tad different from that stereotype… they seem to be possessed with destruction in its purest form. Many were the hours we spend doing the mathematics on the Sorc, deciding whether or not her Charged Bolt could be a viable attack if we had a skill level 40 variant of it. Turns out, it works like a charm. Yay! Endless were the debates about whether or not Tal Rasha’s entire outfit was worth the trouble. For a multi-element sorceress, again, we found the answer: It was. I am very interested in whether the new idea of Blizzard will pay off and the loss of stat points and flexibility it brought will be compensated in some other way. A mage can kill with both the power of her spells as well as the sword and an enchanted sorceress in bear-form turned out to be something to watch out for.

    So what has Blizzard done to show us the almighty powers of the DiabloWikiwizard? For starters, we have seen a couple of spells. Most of them didn’t really turn my motor on… Disintegrate and Electrocute are nice, but we’ve seen them before in Diablo or in some other game. Slow Time, which should properly be named “Time Slow in an AoE”, comes off as rather interesting. Does it only work against missiles? Can we also slow down critters and if so, can we set up multiple zones of Time Stop or is it a localized effect that will disappear once we make a new one? Some of the other spells on display in the trailer are even more awe-inspiring… Lets just call them “Mirror Image”, and “That thing that rains Red death from the sky”… I can imagine the havoc a Mirror Image combined with a Timestop can cause in the enemies lines. Not only do enemies slow down, they won’ even know who to hit.

    I really can’t wait to play Diablo III. The question that boggles my mind… that boggles most of everyone’s mind… when’s the release date? Christmas 2008 is unlikely, but summer 2009? Maybe… maybe… maaaayybeeeee!

    (That’s it… I’m off to play Fallout 3 )

    Baranor’s Den is a weekly column that explores all things RPG and fantasy, with a special focus on the Diablo series. Views expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net. Leave your comment after the column, or email Baranor directly.

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