Lords of Magic is a computer game distributed by Sierra Entertainment. The game plays some familiar tropes and also plays some in ways that really are not seen all that often.The player controls one of eight Faiths on the world of Urak, centered around various Elemental Powers. The world of Urak, once knowing a thousand years of peace, was broken when the worshippers of Golgoth, united under the dark elf Balkoth to form the faith of Death, which rampaged across the world, shattering old kingdoms and desecrating the Great Temples of each Faith, leaving a world of violence and disorder in their wake. The player, starting out as an intrepid adventurer who seeks to rebuild his or her Faith to their former glory, sets out with a small band of loyal soldiers to cleanse the Great Temples, unify their Faith, and forge alliances or conquer enemies in order to gather a mighty host to defeat the armies of Death and destroy Balkoth.Gameplay is familiar to any veteran of the Total War series: much of the action takes place in a Turn-Based Strategy map where you handle recruitment, research, resource management, army movement, and diplomacy. When it comes time to fight, the battlefield is depicted on a real-time battlefield where you can pause to issue orders and use magic/special abilities. Each Faith possesses its own unique units, magic, and strength and weaknesses. Classes and military units run off the Fighter, Mage, Thief dynamic, with units recruited from barracks, mage towers, and thieves' guilds. In addition, each Great Temple has its own unique powers and Legendary Creatures that can be summoned - assuming you have the tremendous resources required to recruit them. Armies are led by champions, who can also train the units trained at each facility to make them stronger.Resource management is a complex affair involving five resources: gold (used to hire archers/thieves/scouts and buy other resources/mercenaries), ale (used to recruit melee infantry, cavalry, and warships) crystals (used to recruit mages, summon creatures, and crucial to maintaining Legendary Creatures), fame (used to barter for gold and attract followers) and followers, which are needed to man the various buildings in each Faith's capital as well as required to train loyal, low-upkeep troops. Resources are acquired either from structures seized on he greater strategic map, or from the various capitals.The game is also notable for having an intricate system of interaction between the Faiths, as the player can engage in trade and diplomacy with allies, threaten or plead with enemies, and use thieves to spy upon and steal from enemy factions. There is even an option to capture and then interrogate, torture, execute or release enemy champions. The magical tech tree also allows for research along various avenues of magic, including defensive and offense spells, general utility magic, and overland spells that can alter the landscape, speed up army movement, or increase sight range.Some examples of tropes are:
Earth: Unit Specialist, leans towards brute force. Mostly focused around infantry, with some odd spells from their mages. Infantry is very tough and powerful, but the faction is the slowest in the game.
Air: Ranger/Guerilla faction. Fastest units in the game, with a lot of flyers, but generally weaker units than usual. Has strong champions, and ranged is stronger than melee.
Fire: Brute Force. Lots of high damage spells, and straightforward offensive melee units.
Water: Mario faction. Has strong cavalry, but otherwise units are about average.
Order: Mario/Brute Force. Army units are quite strong, with wizard spells focused mostly on straight buffs and damage.
Chaos: Technical. Has lots of spells with unusual effects that, as fits the religion's theme, can sometimes be very powerful, sometimes not.
Life: Ranger faction. Strong archers and good mages, but melee units are weak. Is faster than normal, but not by much.
Death: Mario/elitist. Has strong units of all types, and Balkoth is probably the strongest unit in the game.
After the End: The game picks up after a brutal period of destructive chaos caused by Balkoth's rampage. Your people have no armies to defend them, their Great Temples are desecrated, marauders are everywhere, and no one is able to organize in the chaos. It's up to you to retake the Great Temple, be established as Lord, and rebuild your faith to its former glory.
Balkoth has the health and armor of warrior, the spells of a mage, and the ranged attack of a thief. He counts as a mage for the purpose of equipping items though.
You, by late-game, if you focus on expanding your holdings and liberating/conquering other regions. You'll have access to other faiths' entire tech trees and units, allowing you to assemble a powerful military with the strengths of every faction.
An Axe to Grind: The weapon of choice for dwarves and barbarians, naturally. Most wield battle axes, but Earth's ranged units have throwing axes.
Anti-Air: A good number of Earth spells, including one that drags flying units to the ground and possibly kills them.
Arbitrary Headcount Limit: Parties are limited to three champions and nine units of one to three each, allowing for thirty individuals on the field at once, although the Ice Drake and Fafnir, legendary creatures of Air and Fire respectively, cannot combine at all, which is fine, seeing as both count as one man armies.
Also, only one instance of each Legendary Creature can be summoned in each campaign. So if someone else took a Great Temple and summoned the Phoenix or Fafnir ahead of you, you won't be able to summon them later. Doesn't apply to the lesser creatures that can be summoned at the Temples, like regular Dragons or Pegasus Riders.
Area of Effect: Several field spells transform an area to the type of ground that is advantageous to the faith that cast it.
Artificial Brilliance: The game's AI is remarkably clever at exploiting your weaknesses and intelligently reacting to your actions. They'll soften up an area with a garrison by altering the terrain around it, send massive spam attacks of cheap units against invading armies to wear them down, sneak thieves into your territory to gather intelligence and swipe whatever valuables they can, and gang up on isolated units in combat. If your Lord is in battle, they'll do whatever it takes to take him or her out if they can. On the diplomacy screen, they'll adjust their requests and demands based on relative strength (a faction growing too powerful will begin making "demands" instead of "requests" or offering trades and will get pissed if you don't accept). If you have thieves in enemy territory, they'll actively pursue the thief, shadowing his or her movements and continuously trying to take him or her out, and they'll do the same to your scouts to blind you.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Lords are, generally, the most powerful unit in any faction, and only Lords can reach twelfth level, whereas regular champions can only go up to ten. Therefore, whichever lord type you choose, that particular type of unit will be strongest in your faction.
Baseless Mission: The Special Edition comes with Legends of Urak, a set of backstory scenarios that start without a Capitol.
BFS: Storm and Fire Giant warriors use them, naturally. And nobody else can.
Blood Knight: The Fire and Chaos faiths glorify war, while the Death Faith just likes to kill.
One of the special Fire units is a Balrog, complete with a fiery scourge.
The halfling Burglar is essentially Bilbo Baggins. If clicked on, he says that he's hungry and asks if it's dinner yet.
The Chaos Huntress looks like Xena with a ponytail and fights with a chakram.
Color-Coded Armies: Each faith has a general set of colors that appear on most units. Life is yellowish-whitish, Earth is green or brown, Chaos is brown, Water has various blue and green shades, Death is black and purple, Air is light blue, Order is whitish, and Fire is red.
The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The computer has a certain disregard for the rules. As an example, it will happily seize only a Chaos mage tower, use it to make units (the player has to control both the tower and the attached city to use it), use it to make units that are supposed to be summoned from the more remote Great Temple instead of the mage tower, and now your capital is being attacked by an army with four Hydras in it (the Hydra is a unique creature that's only supposed to be summonable once a game).
Critical Existence Failure: When two people of your three-person unit die, but when the unit is sufficiently healed they come back. If that last unit dies, however, all three are gone for good.
Character Alignment: invoked While not played in the way that we see in games like Dungeonsand Dragons this trope is still there. After choosing from one of the three leader types you must choose your elemental alignment.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Just because they're allies doesn't mean they won't stab you in the back. One wrong trade deal, and that powerful ally you were trusting to watch one side of the map will suddenly decide to storm your capital.
Cradling Your Kill: The Dark Elves, out of their love for death are known for doing this to their victims before delivering the final blow.
Cycle of Hurting: Units flinch when they get hit, and someone with slow attack speed and poor hit recovery like a fire or storm giant can end up unable to attack all when surrounded, even if the individual blows are barely hurting them. The issue can be alleviated with items that improve attack speed or hit recovery.
Dark Is Evil: Death is evil, as per the narration to the game's opening, while all the other elements are some variation of good. Even Chaos and Fire, which in many stories usually get lumped in with being associated with some kind of great evil. In game, Death, Fire, Chaos, and Earth all start with good relations amongst themselves, while Water, Air, Order, and Life start with good relations amongst themselves, with few crossovers between the two groups, creating a sort of good/evil split.
Defector from Decadence: Inverted. Death's followers are largely elves who have become disillusioned with the purity of the Life Faith and were tempted to darkness, depravity, and decadence by Golgoth, forming the relatively young and violent Death Faith. Then this trope gets flipped right back around to being played straight with Earth's cavalry, who are more good-aligned dark elves who defected from the defectors.
Defog of War: A few spells increase your vision, and one even reveals terrain and the location, but not strength, of enemy units in a given patch of land. Interrogating prisoners can also reveal enemy locations.
Order. They have probably the most unpleasant starting position in the game, being centrally located, and marauding parties run through their territory with regularity. There's also a substantial chance that even the Level One difficulty buildings in their territory will spawn with a Pegasus inside. Sometimes two. But if you can struggle through the challenge of simply holding your territory, you'll have an impressive Badass Army of elite knights, infantry, and crossbowmen led by very powerful wizards, paladins, and rangers.
Air. Low armor and attack power means they can't fight like regular factions and have to fight literally on the wing, especially against heavy-hitting Earth, Order, and Chaos units. But their speed is incredible, and they're the only faction that can easily field an all-flying army that gives them amazing strategic speed and mobility, and their magic is second only to Fire's for raw destructive potential.
Fire is solid all around, but they have one serious issue: hey're right there on the border with Death, so unless you're willing to pretty much be a vassal of Balkoth's empire for a large part of the game, expect to be constantly fighting Death incursions.
Dying Moment of Awesome: Invoked with the Order spell Heroic Demise, which greatly magnifies a unit's combat stats at the cost of them dying automatically once the battle ends.
Easter Egg: In the Special Edition version, there are 4 quests (Fire, Earth, Death, and Order) you can choose from. There's also a hidden 5th quest (based on the story of Siegfried, and complete with German accents) that can be accessed by clicking on the center of the quest selection room.
Elemental Powers: Four of the eight faiths are based around the classic elements, and the other four have their own, more esoteric focus.
Elves Versus Dwarves: The Life-worshipping elves and Earth-worshipping dwarves typically begin the game with poor relations.
The Earth faction does have dark elves on its side as their cavalry.
Enemy Exchange Program: Liberating their temple while they are friendly or taking over another faith's capitol city allows you to create their units from their facilities. In addition, there are Villages that, when liberated, can be used to create buildings of the two faiths they border. However, you can only produce units from a particular faith in their own territory, and only if you have followers in that particular faith's capital. Having fifty idle followers in the Chaos capital is useless if you want to make Order soldiers.
Fantasy Axis of Evil: To a degree. With the exception of Death, none of the "evil" factions are truly evil; they're just more favorably aligned with Death.
Death itself is both Fallen and Eldritch; its ranks are made up of elves who have taken to worshipping Golgoth, and have the strongest magic in the game.
Chaos is Humanoid, being made up of savage human barbarians.
Fire is Eldritch and Savage, as they consist of powerful mages and savage warriors akin to the Chaos barbarians.
Earth is Humanoid, consisting of dwarves and gnomes, but is the least "evil" of the four.
Marauding Parties are, technically, not a faction, but they fit in on the Savage side, freely attacking anyone and anything they see.
Fighter, Mage, Thief: Well actually the game calls it Warrior Mage Thief, but the principal is the same. All races get one "leader" unit of each type, all units are associated with a particular type of leader through the buildings they are trained at. Cavalry and Infantry are trained at a barracks by warriors, and built there along with ships. Ranged units and scouts are trained by thieves at a Thieves' Guild. Magic creatures are created at Mage Towers or the Great Temple. The three types of units also use different types of resources, almost always based on which type they are associated with.
Five Races: Though there are a lot of individual races in the game, they are divided up into several broad categories:
Stout: Dwarves and gnomes, primarily associated with Earth and Fire, and Fire Giants.
Fairy: Elves on both Life and Death sides, as well as the fairies and elves of Air.
Mundane: Humans, primarily split between the Order and Chaos faiths. Water's amazons can also fit in this category.
High Men: Storm Giants, and the Elemental Giants in the background.
Cute: Faeries, spites, mites, gnomes, and brownies, all split across the various faiths.
Garrisonable Structures: Interesting variation. Depending on how upgraded the capitol city is, the walls will be: Level one, not there, level two, there but with no gate, funneling the enemy to one spot with steps on your side to place ranged units so that they can fire down, and level three, where there is a gate that the enemy must destroy before they can get through, allowing your ranged units and mages time to whittle them down while they crowd in. Other buildings have specific areas of impassible land that can be used as walls as well.
Geo Effects: Each faith has a landscape tailored to their faith that gives them movement and attack speed bonuses to their benefits while in terrain, often associated with "enemy" faiths, their movement and attack speed is halved, each faith also have spells that turn the ground targeted into their particular terrain.
Ranged units in general have weaker defense and hit points than other unit types, so high damage ranged types fit the category well. Longbowmen (the Life ranged units) are the strongest example, having the longest range in the game, among the highest damage of any unit, but among the lowest hit points and defense of any unit.
Chaos and Fire barracks units. They have the highest attack strength for units of their type, but while they have the highest hit points of their type as well, also have the lowest defenses of anything in the game.
Any barracks unit can use the "berserk" ability, reducing its defense to 0 to give itself some of its normal defensive strength as extra offense.
God of Evil: Golgoth, who the Death worshippers revere.
<Hero> Must Survive: After a fashion. Each faith has a Lord, and if that Lord dies, the faith is out, although the remaining forces become marauding parties hell-bent on avenging their fallen leader, specifically going after units of the faith that killed their Lord. If you liberate the Great Temple of a friendly faith, they will swear fealty to you, and you get their Lord. If your starting Lord dies, as long as you have another, the game can continue. This restriction is waived to a degree if you are in combat with Balkoth (or the last remaining Lord if you are playing Death); if you manage to kill him after your own Lord has died in the battle, it still gives you the victory.
Hero with Bad Publicity: If you're not careful, your fame can plummet to rock bottom - generally by losing battles (especially capitals), demanding too much gold at the magistrate's office (essentially and literally cashing in your fame for money) or by failing an interrogation or torture session on an enemy champion.
Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Captured enemy champions can be questioned for information about their military, economy, or magical capabilities, but if the champion questioning them fails, the violence of the act will spark negative repercussions among both your own faith and the others. Thieves are generally best at interrogating, and only when they're substantially superior in level to their target.
Torture Always Works: You can also torture the prisoner, which is more effective, but has even more severe repercussions, and may kill them. But if it fails, your fame will vanish and everyone will come to hate you.
Knight in Shining Armor: The Order faction has knights, paladins, armored warrior spirits, and Sir Lancelot as its legendary creature.
Lizard Folk: Water has Lizardmen and Slingers. Ironically the Lizardmen are the females of the species, the Slingers are male.
Lost Technology: The various magical artifacts and scrolls you can find were crafted using techniques that have long since been lost. In fact, just about all magic has been lost, forcing you to restart research on magic from scratch using old accounts of ancient magical feats via the archives in the libraries.
Unlockable Content: Balkoth's death faction is available only once you've won the game by defeating him.
Nintendo Hard: It's made by Sierra. Expect a severe challenge even on the lowest difficulty setting.
Our Dragons Are Different: Follows the traditional Western style of great flying reptilian beasts, although Fafnir is landbound. Thunder drakes and regular fire-breathing dragons can be summoned by Air and Fire respectively. There is also the Great Worm, a massive snake-like dragon that serves as Earth's legendary creature that tunnels underground, and the Hydra, which is Chaos' legendary creature and acts much like a traditional hydra.
Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Earth's Dwarves follow the traditional style, save for a lack of beards. They're still tough, forge excellent weapons and armor, and wield heavy axes.
Our Elves Are Better: Life's elves are traditional Tolkien-eqsue elves, minus the haughtiness, with strong archers, fast movement, and a love for life, although they prefer open meadows and plains to forests. The elves that serve Death are dark, twisted elves focused on violence and murder, and favor swamps. There are also a small number of elves that serve Air as light cavalry, and dark elves who serve Earth as heavy cavalry.
Our Giants Are Bigger: Several varieties show up, with Storm Giants leading the Air armies and Fire Giants commanding Fire. Ogres and cyclops are higher-end Chaos magical creatures, while Earth can summon Stone Giants.
Our Goblins Are Different: Goblins follow the usual rule of short, violent, green-skinned creatures. Chaos can summon them as magical creatures, but only sword-wielding ones. Crossbow-toting goblins appear as marauders.
Our Liches Are Different: Death's legendary creature, a death mage transformed into a tough, strong undead champion with the biggest mana pool in the game, and the only non-Lord who can reach level 12. The magic to do it can only be used once a millennium, so the marauder faction Lich living in a castle off the coast must have seen a lot.
Our Orcs Are Different: Traditional, hostile-to-everyone marauders exclusively. They come in both the regular kind with spears and the wolf-riding sort.
Opposing Combat Philosophies: Implied when training units. The further in alignment the faction you're training is from the faction of the trainer the less experience they gain, so a Fire champion who can train their own champions up to 10th level might only be able to train Water champions to 5th.
Palette Swap: All over the place. Your chosen Lord is set apart from the standard hero units by their differently colored armor or hair.
Pegasus: One of the Life faction's special units. They have butterfly wings rather than angelic wings.
Proud Warrior Race Guy: Chaos is the strongest example of this (with the Chaos barracks stating that you need to "Be prepared to proudly wear the scars you earn!") with Death, Fire, and Earth following close behind.
Religion Is Magic: There is no separation between the two in the game, each faith has spells based on what it worships.
Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Death's warriors ride giant lizards into battle that look like komodo dragons. However Life's warriors also ride scaly raptor creatures, and Water has Lizard Folk and is one of the more benevolent faiths.
"Risk"-Style Map: From the start, the whole map is yours to explore. Careful, though, your enemy faiths don't like you in their backyard.
Robe and Wizard Hat: The Order Wizard looks like your standard fantasy wizard, complete with gnarled staff and long white beard. Earth Magicians look fairly similar, albeit shorter.
Most of the Earth buildings look like Hobbit-holes.
Simple Staff: The weapon of choice for Life's barracks units. Note that "simple" doesn't mean "good" - don't expect Life's melee troops to do anything more than buy time for its rather deadly archers.
The Spartan Way: Chaos actually trains units using a gladiator arena that injures most of the troops training there, and Death's barracks quote notes that "Countless have died to join our order, and countless more will continue to try!"
Starting Units: Your Lord begins the game accompanied by three or four units. You cannot train more until you liberate your Temple and your people acknowledge you. You can, however, hire mercenaries or summon creatures from the Mage Tower. These units are cheaper to train, but cost a lot more to maintain, making them a short-term solution bordering on Instant Militia.
Stone Wall: Units can add some of their attack to their defense at the cost of being unable to attack. For Fire and Death warriors this can be combined with their legendary armors, which cast harmful spells at those who hit them, to create someone capable of soloing vastly greater forces by blocking their way to victory.
Summon Magic: All mage towers can summon creatures to support you in combat. While most of them (save Chaos' goblins) are only single creatures, their individual power is impressive and they can potentially stand up to enemy champions. Certain faiths can also summon creatures in battle, such as Order.
Squishy Wizard: All mages are relatively squishy, though how much depends on the faction. Fire, air, and earth mages have decent enough physical stats that at high level they can handle much lower level enemies in melee, while death and life mages continue to fall over if anyone looks at them funny. The only exceptions are Balkoth and the Lich.
Tech Tree: There are four different types of spell in each faith, and you can only research the simplest and work your way up, although which type you research is up to you. You can research offense up to, say, "Bless," then defense up to "Holy Visit," then go through the General. The speed at which your research proceeds depends on two factors: how many researchers you have and what level they are. Every level of researcher adds one man-day of research per day(turn), and one level one mage gets one man-day per day. Up to three mages can research at a time, and the maximum level is Ten, with an exception for the Lord who can be Twelve, maxing out at a possible 32 man-days per day. Some spells take up to two hundred man-days to research, so every level helps.
The Undead: Death, obviously. Undead are immune to several death spells, but are vulnerable to Life's Turn Undead and except for the vampire's life-draining attacks don't heal at all without magical aid. Order also uses them in the form of willingly-resurrected ancient heroes.
Variable Mix: The combat music (a set of about 15 short .wav files) reacts to your army's (dis)advantage on the battlefield.
Video Game Geography: Type 1: Urak (and every map in Lords of Magic) is a torus. You can see this most clearly in the map editor, if you zoom out as far as you can. (Order is in the center, so it'll look somewhat like this, butthesemapsareallequallyaccurate. And if those maps seem too ethnocentric, this one covers the same area from a slightly different perspective.)
You Require More Vespene Gas: Gold, ale and crystals are required to hire your units, but each type of unit has a certain resource they want more than the other two: gold is required for ranged units, ale for melee, and crystals for magic. Fame pulls in followers, whom you can put to work in your capitol to rake in more resources or train into military units. All spells require a mage of that faith to cast, so any spells you don't have a mage for are Uselessnium and can be traded to other faiths for substantial return without the risk of them using those spells on you. In this manner you can also trade spells you can use, seeing as this is simply knowledge being traded and you keep the ability to cast them while they cannot without one of your mages, which you are under no obligation to hand over.
Zerg Rush: The AI's response to having hostile units in proximity to a capitol is to rapidly create large numbers of weaker military units and spam them at the intruders. This can be devastating if the first army is defeated but you've expended all your mana and many of your troops are injured, and the second, or third, or tenth army shows up.
Zerging is a viable tactic with Chaos. Because Chaos' troops have such low armor but such high attack, they can pretty much swarm over an enemy force and bury them in a sea of axes and greatswords. Most notable is that their basic summoning creatures are goblins, who come in three-creature units like regular infantry, but don't gain experience and cost no followers to create, so losing a goblin unit doesn't have the same cost as losing an experienced, loyal soldier unit, which encourages using them as meatshields to keep a pesky legendary creature, line of archers, or horde of tough melee beasts busy.