Wizardry III: Extended Level 1 Shenanigans Revisited

Despite knowing the inevitable outcome, I did bring my entire party from Wizardry II straight into Wizardry III for a ceremonial slaughtering. It just seemed wrong to do otherwise. That done, I was in for a bit of a shock: I couldn’t import any more characters. There’s a limit of 20 characters on what Wizardry misleadingly terms a “scenario disk”, and every single slot was filled with someone lying dead in the dungeon. To bring in anyone new, I’d have to delete someone. But who? My new characters? The ones that have been waiting for rescue since 2010? In the end, I opted to just wipe the disk and start over.

Now, once you’ve done such a thing once, it becomes very tempting to do it again. You lose a few parties to the maze, along with their sweet equipment. You’re only going to get a fraction of that equipment back even if you manage to recover their corpses. The dead guys are probably not worth the cost of resurrecting, and no one else has any XP. So what good is anyone? Might as well wipe the disk and stop them cluttering up the roster!

I actually tried streamlining the whole process: instead of creating a party at a time, I created 20 characters, imported them all at once, used all their gold to buy better equipment from the very start, and sent six of them into the dungeon. This might actually be closer to what the designers intended: when you’re through with Wizardry I, why wouldn’t you bring all your characters to the next game? And it worked pretty well, for a while. When one of them died, there was a replacement ready, and all I had to do was hand him the armor he had already partially paid for. But this was subject to an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket problem: when I finally did suffer a TPK, I basically lost everything. Might as well wipe the disk!

Really, I think, the key is to spread things out. XP is the real treasure here; as I noted in my 2010 posts, once you have even one level-2 character, the whole thing becomes much more survivable. So what I really should be doing is hoarding XP. When a party returns from the dungeon with more XP than they started with, don’t just send them all out again. Send one of them out again, with a bunch of new recruits wearing only as much armor as they can buy with their own funds. If they come back alive, add them to your stockpile. We’re essentially gambling here. Creating a character is ante. Sending a character with nonzero XP is a raise. You don’t want to go all in on every hand.

Wizardry III: Legacies

Coming right off of the power fantasy of Wizardry II, it’s impressive just how hard Wizardry III throws you at the wall. As you may recall from my posts of twelve years ago, Wizardry III, unlike Wizardry II, reduces imported characters to level 1. The only things you keep are your stats and your class. While this does introduce the possibility of putting a Ninja in your party from the very beginning, it remains the case that any level-1 character stands a good chance of getting killed in their very first encounter, possibly in a surprise round before you even have a chance to run away. I spoke of Wizardry II‘s eagerness to kill characters without warning, but there, it was at least always because of something the player did, and consequently learned not to do. The thing Wizardry III is teaching us not to do is go into the dungeon at all.

The in-world justification for disempowering the characters is that you’re not actually playing the same characters that you imported, but their descendants. Hence the title “Legacy of Llylgamyn”. Characters aren’t automatically reduced on import, but have to be linked into their descendants through a menu command (L)EGATE, a word that provokes etymological thoughts. (Oddly, the manual incorrectly gives the command (R)ITE OF PASSAGE for this. Were the manual and the executable in this anthology taken from different versions of the game? That would make sense for the first two games, which we know to be ports to the Wiz3 engine, but not for Wiz3 itself.)

This notion of legacy creates a false expectation. When a character wins Wizardry I or II, they’re awarded with a special mark on their stats page, like a medal in the form of an ASCII character. (In the version of Wiz1 that I played as a child, the mark was affixed to their name, but that isn’t the case here.) And these marks are inherited. Once you have a party that’s killed Werdna and recovered the Staff of Gnilda, it’s natural to think “These guys are special. They’ve got honors. These are the ones who will save the kingdom of Llylgamyn from disaster.” But then of course they all just die, and you wind up making a new party that you don’t bother going through I and II with because they’re just going to get deleveled and probably killed anyway. I can imagine getting fully-blinged-out heroes by sending a new party through I and II once you already have some powerful characters already in place in III to act as bodyguards and shepherd them through the early levels, but it wouldn’t be the same. They wouldn’t feel like the real legendary heroes. They’d be more like tourists on a Legendary Hero package tour.

Which, come to think of it, fits the theme of legacy pretty well. We’re talking about creating systems to give the children of the rich and powerful a free pass and make sure they receive rewards they haven’t earned.

Wizardry I: What Changes and What Doesn’t

Now, there are many versions of Wizardry I, and the one I’m playing today is not the same one I played in my youth. They’re both PC versions, but the standalone box I had back then had a very different UI from the one in the Ultimate Wizardry Archives CD-ROM anthology, the former displaying the first-person view of the dungeon in one corner and filling the rest of the screen with stats and messages, the latter keeping the dungeon view full-screen and overlaying temporary windows on top of it. I understand the full-screen approach to have been originally created for Wizardry III. And neither is completely identical to the Apple II version that preceded it, or the console versions that followed it. Some versions change the content, too. There are entire maps that are completely different on Nintendo. I don’t know why. Names of items vary wildly by platform, as if they had been translated by different localization teams, except that they were originally written in English. (Maybe they got translated into Japanese and back? It’s not as wild a supposition as it sounds; somehow, the series has long been most popular in Japan.)

Still, the Ultimate Wizardry Archive port is completely faithful the original maps, even when they seem like they must be wrong. There are portions of the maze that are inaccessible without teleporting, including part of the tunnels forming Andrew Greenberg’s initials on level 9, as if they left out a door and didn’t notice. There’s a sort of quest chain on levels 1 and 2 where you find keys to access other keys, culminating in a gold key that has no use. Apparently in the Nintendo port, the gold key gives you access to the elevator from level 1 to 4, just as the blue ribbon lets you ride from 4 to 9. Maybe that was the intention all along. As a child, I always thought of Wizardry as a class act, with its sleek and elegant black boxes and its substance-over-style design. It tarnishes this impression somewhat to notice not just such slapdash QA, but that the apparent mistakes went without correction in a port made 17 years later.

The version I’m playing now makes one change that I find really significant: in porting to the Wizardry III engine, it inherited Wizardry III‘s alignment mechanics. In the original version, you chose each character to be Good, Evil, or Neutral on creation, and that was pretty much it for them — I’ve seen claims that picking fights with friendly monsters provided a miniscule chance of turning Good characters Evil, but it never happened to me. A character’s alignment limits both what classes they can be and who they can adventure with, so this effectively meant you couldn’t have a party containing both a Lord (Good only) and a Ninja (Evil only). 1Except by giving a Thief’s Dagger to a Neutral Thief, anyway. But Wizardry III made it so easy to switch alignments through your treatment of friendly monsters that the distinction became almost meaningless: anyone can adventure with anyone else, given enough time to arrange it. But at the same time, shifting alignment is randomized enough that it also became easy to split your party’s alignment, rendering them temporarily incapable of getting together again if they’re split up, either voluntarily, by quitting the game, or involuntarily, by getting someone killed and resurrecting them in town. This creates a pressure to keep acting your alignment all the time to avoid splitting the party. If you’re playing a Good party, you have reason to leave all friendly monsters alone, which is simple enough, but makes the Murphy-grinding slower; if Evil, you have reason to attack all friendlies, even the ones that are liable to cause problems. Wizardry I as originally released lacked such considerations.

1 Except by giving a Thief’s Dagger to a Neutral Thief, anyway.

Restarting Wizardry

My craving for making maps on a grid unsatisfied, I turn back to the game that taught it to me in the first place. I left off Wizardry III in the middle more than a decade ago on this blog; I think it’s time I got back to it. But first, it’s been so long now since I played the first two Wizardries that I feel like I should start over from the very beginning. So last night I created a new party of adventurers to explore the Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord. Just like when I started over Wizardry III, I still have some old characters around — I’m not using the same machine as 12 years ago, but I still have the files — but I intend to only use them for emergencies like dragging characters’ carcasses out of the dungeon for attempted resurrection after a TPK. (Recall that resurrection is not guaranteed to work in this game.)

My writeup of Wizardry III describes generating lots of level 1 characters and getting most of them killed immediately, a cycle that repeats until I finally, painstakingly get someone to survive to level 2, which provides the leverage I needed to get more characters over that hump. Strikingly, that didn’t happen at all in my replay of Wizardry I. I just took some simple precautions, like pooling my party’s gold to buy the front-line fighters decent armor, and heading for the exit before I ran out of healing spells, and that was sufficient to get my entire party up to level 2 without any deaths at all. By the end of the evening, they were level 10-ish with only one replacement. I remember the game being a lot harder than this. Of course, when I first played it, I had no idea what I was doing, and this time around, I’m very familiar with both CRPGS in general and Wizardry in particular. The opening hallways and chambers of level 1 are engraved in my memory, and instantly recognizable — moreso than the rest of the dungeon, because this is the part you see at the start of every delve.

But to be honest, the main reason I’ve been able to advance so quickly is the Murphy’s Ghost. Hidden away in a secret area of level 1 where you won’t find it easily, it may have been initially intended as a kind of trap. You enter a room and get some text describing an altar, and a prompt asking if you want to search it. Say yes, and a Murphy’s Ghost appears — or sometimes two; I think the name must not mean “the ghost of Murphy” but rather, something like “a species of ghost identified by Murphy”, like “Thomson’s Gazelle” or “Pallas’s Cat”. At any rate, the Murphy’s Ghost is a great deal tougher than other monsters you encounter on level 1, but once you’re advanced enough to beat it, it offers an unparalleled reward-to-risk ratio. And since you can just enter the altar room and summon it again as many times as you like, it’s the ideal grinding spot. And grind I did.

All this ease inevitably led to overconfidence and a TPK on level 4 when I prematurely took on the game’s first real boss encounter. I’ve more or less recovered from that, but my party has been almost entirely Ship-of-Theseused, with only one of the initial roster remaining. The Murphy’s Ghost helps a lot with that, too: it doesn’t have any ranged attacks, so if you’re training up a fragile new level-1 character, you can just park them in the back row and let them earn XP by watching the big guys slaughter ghosts for a while.

Wizardry III: Signing Off

A TPK of my second party has left me in a poor position. Oh, it’s a better position than starting over from scratch — I meant everything I said last time about saving up the snazzy gear, and I still have a few back-up characters waiting in the wings. The highest-level one remaining is a priest, which is probably the best class to jump-start a new party, what with all those healing and protection spells. Nonetheless, the plan was to pull out a new game every two weeks, and since it’s pretty much time for that, I’ll take this as an opportunity to bow out for a while.

It’s funny. After mastering dungeon levels 2 and 3 so handily, I really thought I was going to finish the game before my self-imposed deadline. But that sort of attitude just encourages recklessness, and this is a game that rewards patience — the reward being those “I can’t believe I actually pulled that off” moments, rendered meaningful by the very real possibility of failure with major consequences. With that and the major role of randomization, the game plays more like gambling than most CRPGs do, albeit gambling where the odds are really tilted in your favor, however it seems sometimes.

I do want to get back to it, and will probably take it up as this year’s game-to-play-between-other-games. As I mentioned before, I’m finding it’s a good thing to play on the bus with a laptop: it occupies the attention, but doesn’t absorb it so much that you miss your stop. Dealing with maps on the bus is awkward, but that just means mapping is best done at home and the bus is better for grinding. After you’ve spent some time grinding on a level, you don’t even really need to consult a map very often; you just develop an orbit that takes in a few guaranteed monster encounters and returns to the exit.

Maps are still necessary if you trigger a teleport trap, mind you. Traps are the single deadliest things in the game — my latest TPK was the result of triggering a teleport trap and winding up in a place that I was in no position to get through, and in the near-TPK I described last post, the reason my party was mostly poisoned was a gas cloud trap. Traps are also completely avoidable: they’re only found on treasure chests, and opening treasure chests is optional. But pass them up and you’ll never get the buff gear that makes it so easy to train up your replacements. I’ll admit that it’s kind of a circular argument, but there it is.

Next up: Another old RPG from an anthology package! I have a lot of those. If I stick to schedule, it’ll be mid-March before I play anything else.

Wizardry III: Leapfrogging

I’m recovering from another TPK. It was a pretty anticlimactic one, too. I had just gone through a heroic effort to bring my party back unharmed from a one-way trip into a lengthy sequence of unexplored tunnels — basically, the previously-unexplorable reaches of dungeon level 2. The monsters back there don’t pose a serious threat to me any more, except perhaps through slow attrition after I run out of spells, but there was one complication: most of my party was poisoned, and losing health just from walking around. Not only that, but there was a point where the only way forward required a password. After guessing wrong twice, I really thought I that was it, but, in classic storytelling form, I solved the riddle on my third try. And I made it out without loss of life. It was the sort of adventure that leaves you elated for having beaten the odds. And then, on my next try, I blundered into a previously-unseen boss lair, was surprised, and bam. I couldn’t even run away.

Fortunately, I had another party waiting in the wings: the reclaimed remains of my last TPK. They’re not quite as advanced as the ones newly-lost, but they’re pretty close. The only real drag on my progress right now is the need to train up a new mage, as I seem to be fresh out of mages. In fact, I should probably train two. Two in the hand is worth one lying inert on the dungeon floor, right? After all, I’d be in really bad shape if the party I’m currently using got wiped out too.

But not as bad as you’d think. Spending a long time in a particular area of the dungeon means picking up a lot of redundant magic items. Even if I had to start over with level 1 characters, I think I could get through the opening stages of the game again pretty quickly if the entire front row started with +1 plate mail. Which means I have to make sure to actually give the spare gear to someone not currently adventuring. This is certainly doable, but it goes somewhat against instinct, and involves fiddling around with menus instead of just selling your loot and going straight back into the dungeon.

Still, one thing is clear: I’m going to need a much more powerful party to do the rescue this time. My best characters are going to rot in a heap until they aren’t nearly my best characters any more.

Wizardry III: Combat

I’ve survived another trip to dungeon level 4. It was a close thing, though: fully half my party was dead by the time I made it out. (Fortunately, they all survived resurrection.) This time, though, it wasn’t due to any individual encounter. It’s because I spent too long wandering the dungeon and getting into fights. Not deliberately, either: I hit a teleporter I didn’t know about, and had to find a way back to the exit through uncharted ground. The upside is that it’s not uncharted any more.

Since the primary distinguishing feature of my last session was more fights than I wanted, let’s talk a bit about what fights are like. The Wizardry combat system is the basis of turn-based combat in so many RPGs, notably including Final Fantasy. It’s all turn-based, or, more precisely, it’s what’s been called a “phased” system: you give every character their instructions for the round — whether to attack or cast a spell or whatever — and then there’s a certain amount of randomness in the ordering of the results, weighted by experience level and Agility. This includes the actions of the monsters.

Monsters come in homogeneous stacks, with up to four stacks per encounter, but act individually. The stacks (or “groups”, as the docs call them) are significant to the mechanics: when you specify a target for a spell or an attack, you specify the group, not the individual. Many of the combat spells affect an entire group at a time, which makes a sufficiently-advanced mage vastly more powerful than an equally-advanced fighter, who can kill at most one creature per round. Past a certain point, the fighter has only two purposes in the party: meat-shield, and conserving the mage’s spells by killing the less-threatening monsters the slow way.

Not that this makes them less crucial as parts of the party! Mages really, really need their meat-shields, because it’s the only kind of shield they can use. Although the interface doesn’t indicate this clearly, the party is divided into two rows. Only the first three slots are in melee range of the monsters. I don’t mean that there’s a reduced chance of hitting the back row, I mean the back row can’t be targeted by physical attacks at all. This is why samurai and lords are so valuable: they’re spellcasters that you can put in the front row without getting them killed. They are, in effect, their own meat-shields. Priests are almost as good in this role, in that they can wear armor that’s almost as good as a fighter’s, and in addition can carry enough healing power to compensate for the difference. But I’m still somehow not comfortable putting more than one priest in front.

Mind you, even in the back row, you’re vulnerable to spells. This is something I remember coming as a bit of a shock when I first encountered spellcasting monsters on dungeon level 2 of Wizardry I. I had gotten used to wiping out the monsters with group damage spells, and suddenly they were easily wiping me out using exactly the same techniques. It seemed somehow unfair, despite being symmetrical. Or, well, not entirely symmetrical: spellcasting monsters tend to come in groups, which increases their chance of getting in the first cast, which can determine the outcome of the entire battle. It’s a good thing that your initiative goes up with your experience level.

Frequently, combat begins with a surprise round, in which only one side gets to attack. The interesting thing about this is that you can’t cast spells in a surprise round, which completely changes the dynamic. The priestly ability to dispel undead isn’t considered a spell, so that’s pretty much your only option for disposing of monsters en masse. Until, that is, you realize that this is what scrolls are for. I had written them off as worthless at first, just an expensive way of getting the equivalent of an extra spell slot, but a Katino (sleep) scroll used in a surprise round against against a group of spellcasters has on more than one occasion prevented them from getting off a single spell.

Wizardry III: Leveling

Well, it happened, just like I said it would: I got cocky. My rapid mastery of dungeon levels 2 and 3 led to a total party kill on level 4. The really galling thing here is that my first foray to that depth was relatively placid: I explored a small area, enough to find a quick one-way route back to town, which seems pretty important, given how long it takes to get to and from that level by the front entrance (and how many encounters you’d have along the way, and what shape your party will be in on the way out). On the second trip, I tried to just do a sweep to that exit, but got slaughtered en route. I’ll want to pick up their corpses at some point, but for the moment, they’re out of reach. The one time I attempted that level with another party, I was beaten back; by the time I completed the return journey the long way, only one member of the party remained alive. Most of the rest resurrected successfully, but it’s clear that I’m not going to be able to make more progress until I’ve improved my defenses to the maximum possible extent.

And that’s been a bit of a problem. The dead party had better armor than you can buy in the store, and better also than what I’ve been able to find since. Even worse, my new priest has been strangely unable to master Maporfic. This is a priest spell — all of the spell in the game have nonsense names — a spell that improves the entire party’s armor class, and lasts for the entire expedition, until you go back to town. (Or until you hit an anti-magic field, I suppose, but I haven’t run into any of those yet.) Since it offers potentially unlimited protection for a single casting cost, Maporfic quickly becomes a part of your regular routine on entering the dungeon. I certainly don’t dare consider braving level 4 again without it. But at this point, it’s starting to look like the quickest way to get it will be to create a new priest.

To fully understand my problem, you have to understand how leveling works, and just how random it is. And since leveling up is the focus of my attention at this point, it seems a good time to describe it in detail. As usual, killing monsters (or even just passively standing and watching the rest of the party kill monsters) yields experience points, which yield character levels at exponentially-increasing intervals. Unusually for a CRPG, you don’t gain experience levels in the dungeon; you have to explicitly stay at the Adventurer’s Inn back in town. Sending each party member to the inn becomes part of the post-adventure routine, just like selling your loot. If you failed to level, you get a report of how many more experience points you need; if you succeed, you get a report of exactly how it changed you. You always gain at least one hit point on leveling, but frequently only one — although sometimes you’ll wind up gaining twenty. (As a point of comparison, all level-1 characters have 8 hit points.) Some of your stats will increase by one, but others will decrease by one, with no discernable pattern, except that higher experience levels seem to make increases more likely. At low levels, net stat loss on leveling is not unusual. (I have one fighter in my party whose IQ stat is down to 0; I think it’s possible for it to even go negative.) I know I keep saying this, but: No one would design a game like this today. The whole idea of rewarding experience with random decreases in power seems downright perverse by modern standards. But really, it isn’t as bad as it seems, because the increase in overall power from just being a higher experience level more than compensates for such losses.

Leveling is also how you learn spells. It’s the only way to learn spells, and it’s just as random. Spells come in seven levels, and there are limits on how soon you can learn them (with pure mages and priests getting access to higher spell levels at lower experience levels than bishops, samurai, or lords), but once you have access to a spell level, you’ll just pick up the spells in it at random as you gain experience levels. But it’s quite possible to start picking up level 5 spells before you’ve got all the level 4’s. Quite possible, and quite frustrating.

The one upside of spending three or four experience levels trying to get a particular spell is that, when you’re done, you have a character who’s three or four experience levels higher than before. Even if I decide to give up and power-level up a new priest, having a high-level healer around will expedite it. The amount of time you can spend in the more experience-rich parts of the dungeon is limited mainly by the amount of healing magic you have available.

Wizardry III: Graphics

The bulk of dungeon level 3 is taken up with a big mass of one-way walls. These are in some ways equivalent to one-way doors, in that they allow you to pass through in only one direction, except that from the passable direction they’re completely invisible. The effect is fearsome. Before this point, you could rely on having an escape route behind you most of the time, and even the introduction of one-way doors meant that getting cut off was the result of a conscious decision to go through an unexplored door. But now, any step can cut you off. Even worse, though, the geography simply doesn’t make intuitive sense any more.

The underlying model must involve separate records for each map tile for what lies in each of the four directions, because there’s clearly nothing enforcing consistency between adjacent tiles. Presumably the renderer has some way to determine which tiles to consult about what to render for each particular wall slot — for example, tiles to the left of the player’s view determine the visibility of their own left walls but not their right walls. This is all more complicated than the contemporary 3D dungeons in the Ultima series, which were simply grids of blocks, each of which could be either solid or empty. In fact, it’s kind of like a primitive version of portal rendering, with each map tile treated as its own sector. (The effect of looking into a teleporter square is particularly suggestive of this: the renderer displays the sectors adjacent to the teleporter’s destination. Which can be really confusing if you don’t know there’s a teleporter there.)

wiz3-corridorNote that when I say “primitive”, I mean primitive. We’re talking low-res black-and-white line drawings here. Any significant dungeon features other than walls and doors — whether it’s a staircase, a signpost, an altar, or a mysterious cloaked figure beckoning to you — is rendered as a smudge on the floor. Even worse, the player character apparently has tunnel vision: the view is only three tiles wide. I suppose it was optimized for corridors, where all you need to see is the walls to your left and right, and the immediate entrance to any side corridor. wiz3-distantwallBut there are a lot of wide-open spaces in this game — or, in the case of dungeon level 3, spaces that look wide-open from one side. You can be facing a distant wall (where “distant” means four tiles away, the longest distance you can see) and see only three little wall segments in the middle of the screen. The kicker is that Wizardry III is a step up from the original Wizardry engine. The original versions of I and II put their line drawings in one small corner of the screen in order to make room for the party stats and other information. Wizardry III (and versions of I and II ported to the Wizardry III engine) renders full-screen line drawings, and overlays information windows on top of it as and when needed.

Still, I can’t help but feel like the graphics here have stood up to time better than the graphics in more advanced games like The Bard’s Tale. As with the pixel art beloved of indie game developers, it’s primitive enough to have a minimalist aesthetic. There is no unnecessary detail, just enough to convincingly put you in a barren and claustrophobic network of corridors. Which means it’s a little embarrassing when the in-game text tells you that you stand before a mighty castle or you’re on the shore of a lake or something. Just let it be what it is, guys.

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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