Wizardry III: Alignment

Dungeon level 2 is thoroughly explored now, or at least the parts that are reachable initially. This level introduces one-way doors, which can really mess up your plans to retreat to the exit at the first sign of trouble. If I’m not mistaken, this is terra incognita for me, an area that I didn’t figure out how to get to the first time I attempted this game. I had skipped to level 3, which you can reach directly from level 1, but the passage to level 2 eluded me, and I erroneously thought it must have something to do with the few bits in level 1 that aren’t directly reachable without a teleport spell (which is one of the last spells you get). There’s some guidance in the game, but the most direct statement of what I was doing wrong and how to fix it flashed by too fast to read, and possibly even to fast to notice. This is one of the few cases where the game makes the mistake of assuming things about the speed of your PC. DOSBox to the rescue!

The key is that the level is alignment-locked. You aren’t allowed in if there’s anyone evil in your party. For all I know, you might not even be allowed in if there’s anyone neutral in your party; I’ve been shying away from neutrality as limiting my characters’ options for advancement. See, there are alignment restrictions on class. Samurai can’t be evil, Thieves can’t be good, Lords can only be good, and Ninjas can only be evil. Priests and Bishops can be good or evil, but not neutral. There are no neutral-only classes.

The chief way that alignment affects gameplay is that characters aren’t allowed to join a party containing anyone of the opposite alignment. (Neutral characters are always welcome.) For the most part, then, “good” and “evil” are just arbitrary designators for two teams, like “red” and “blue”. I can’t speak about the habits of other people, but when I personally played Wizardry I, I tended to maintain two separate party rosters, one for each team, with some neutral crossover characters, who consequently tended to level a lot faster. After all, I wanted to try every class.

There is one sort of moral choice in the game, however: every once in a while, randomly-encountered monsters are “friendly” — they don’t attack you, and you get to choose whether or not to pick a fight with them anyway. (This seems to only happen with monsters that are significantly weaker than you, which makes the designation “friendly” seem like a polite euphemism.) If you fight them, there’s a chance that some good characters in your party will turn evil; if you don’t, there’s a chance that some evil characters will turn good. In this way, it’s possible to wind up with a mixed good/evil party, but only for the duration of the current session: every time you start up the game, you have to form a party from scratch, and you won’t be allowed to choose the same characters as before if some of them are on opposite teams now. Interestingly, neutral characters never change alignment this way. I recall reading somewhere that this mechanic was only introduced in Wizardry III, although I can’t personally confirm this: I can’t run my original Wizardry I disks on my current system (which lacks a 5-1/4 inch floppy drive), and the version included in the Ultimate Wizardry Archives is actually a port of Wizardry I to the Wizardry III engine, with the same alignment mechanics as the latter. If true, it strikes me as a pretty major change to the game mechanics for an otherwise-faithful port. I mean, without the ability to change alignment, you’d never have Ninjas and Lords adventuring together.

Systems of moral choice in games haven’t really come very far since those days. In a lot of cases, the difference between good and evil is simply a matter of which menu-based dialog items you choose. Wizardry III at least grounds its moral system in game mechanics. But the difference between good and evil is still mainly a tactical one. There will come times when friendly monsters get in your way while you’re making a break for the exit, depleted of spells. You really want to just let them go, but you’re trying to train up a Ninja and don’t want to spoil things. What do you do?

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