Wizardry III: Alignment-Locking

I’ve been spending quite some time on the 4th floor. It’s been slow going, but this is not a bad thing — indeed, I’ve reached a state where I’m enjoying the game completely without reservation! It’s hit a sweet spot of slow but steady incremental progress, where each venture into the dungeon adds just a little bit more to the map before I’m forced to retreat, and random equipment drops yield something new and better just often enough to be encouraging, but not so often that it stops feeling special.

But for a while, it was going slow because I didn’t have a quick way to get to level 4, and had to take the long route all the way through the moated fortress on level 1 and then from one corner to the other of level 2’s winding maze. There’s a stair joining levels 1 and 4, right next to a stair joining levels 1 and 5, but they’re across a lake from the entrance. The means of crossing the lake is an item called “Ship in a Bottle” — a lovely bit of whimsy, and also a little bit of a puzzle, as the item name is all you get, and exactly how it gets you across the lake is left to the imagination. This kind of guessing-on-the-basis-of-scant-clues puzzle is really coming to the fore, and I remember it being a big factor in Wizardry IV as well. Anyway, the Ship in a Bottle is a very common drop on level 4, but I wasn’t finding it at first, because I wasn’t opening chests. When I was new to the area and scared of the monsters in it, I left the thieves out of the party to make room for a second cleric, and without a thief, you really want to leave chests alone.

But even when I couldn’t use those stairs as a quick entrance, I could use them as a quick exit. This has to do with what I’ve been calling “alignment-locked”. Levels 2 through 5 are alignment-locked: a party with any evil characters can’t enter levels 2 or 4, and a party with any good characters can’t enter levels 3 or 5. I think the content of the levels is tailored to their alignment a bit, too. Level 3, an evil level, has evil architecture: the bulk of the level looks like a massive open space, but is really made of one-way walls, invisible and passable from one side, visible and impassible from the other. Also, it has the most evil trap I’ve seen: an open passage into a space that, once entered, turns out to be solid rock. Teleporting into rock is one of the few ways to instantly lose an entire party with no possibility of resurrection, and here it’s possible to do it without even teleporting. To be fair, it’s preceded by a series of signposts warning you away, but if I paid any attention to warning signs, I never would have finished Wizardry I. Anyway, levels 2 and 4, the good-aligned ones, have plenty of tricks and traps of their own, but they play relatively fair about it.

So, what happens if you try to enter an alignment-locked level with the wrong party? You get teleported back to town, that’s what. And that’s why a stair to level 4 and a stair to level 5 next to each other work as a quick exit, even if you can’t cross the lake to the stairs out.

Now, level 4 also has a stair up to what I believe to be level 6. And it displays the same behavior: attempting to go up it sends you back to town with the familiar “You’re not welcome here” message. And that made me wonder, because it seemed like it was expecting an evil party, but an evil party couldn’t get into level 4. A puzzle! There were two obvious approaches, but neither seemed very practical. First, you could stay on level 4 until you had fought enough friendly encounters to turn your good party evil. But this would require surviving on level 4 for a very long time. Second, you could create an entire neutral party, which should in theory be allowed everywhere. The problem with this is that an all-neutral party couldn’t have any healers — priests are allowed to be either good or evil, but they have to be one or the other. Perhaps a mixed party would be allowed through? I made a note to try experiments once I finished mapping out levels 4 and 5.

But in fact I found a solution without meaning to. I had a weary and injured party, looking for the quickest way out, and it looked like getting teleported back to town by those stairs up would be it. To my horror, however, they simply went up the stairs. I immediately realized it had to be due to the Crystal of Evil in my inventory, picked up after a tough battle with a wizard named Delf, whose minions turn people to stone (a status I can’t cure yet, but I can easily afford the fee to have it done in town). I closed my laptop still in the dungeon, wondering what to do, and after some time, it came to me: Go back down the stairs, drop the crystal, and go back up again, both getting back home intact and confirming my guess. The game doesn’t really keep state for stuff in the dungeon; all state-tracking is done through character inventory. So what if I don’t have the plot-important crystal any more? I could just fight Delf for it again — something I kind of wanted to do anyway, because he gives massive XP.

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