The game begins with you, a humble postal clerk, being sent to deliver a letter to the proprietor of Ye Olde Magick Shoppe. The letter turns out to be a ransom note: an evil sorceress has kidnapped the proprietor's cat, and wants in return the magical Wishbringer.
The Wishbringer is a magical stone that can perform seven magical actions (each of which can be used once only during the game). It is possible to complete the game without ever using the stone, but careful deployment of the "wishes" can make things much easier.
A comedic novelization of the game was written by Craig Shaw Gardner in 1988.
This game provides examples of:
- Androcles' Lion: You can rescue a seahorse at the beginning of the game by tossing it back into the ocean. Later on, it will bring a wave of seahorses to rescue you if you get tossed in the ocean by the Boot Patrol.
- Cain and Abel: The Evil One and the Magick Shoppe proprietor are apparently sisters.
- Clairvoyant Security Force: In the card and novelty shop, touching anything summons the owner from an adjacent room.
- Creepy Cemetery: The Festeron one is spooky but harmless. The Witchville version is... surprisingly non-lethal, although all your items will be scattered if you enter.
- Dark World: After you exit the Magick Shoppe, you discover that the evil sorceress has changed the pleasant town of Festeron into the creepy and dangerous Witchville.
- Denser and Wackier: Even for Zork, which is pretty dense and wacky to begin with.
- Engagement Challenge: The seriously depressing origin of Wishbringer, described in the feelies, features these; the princes all died, and the princess withered away with unfulfilled wishes until eventually Wishbringer was all that was left.
- Eye of Newt: All of the wishes require you to have some kind of material object or ingredient to work.
- Fauxshadow: Throughout the feelies and prologue, repeated mention is made of the threat of the dragon Thermofax; there are also a number of fake-clues in the hint book about dealing with him. Thermofax doesn't play any role in the game whatsoever.
- Fluffy the Terrible: A hellhound named Alexis (which, probably not so coincidentally, is also the name of the evil queen in the game's back story).
- Gaiden Game: Wishbringer is set in the world of the Zork series, but there are no plot connections.
- Golden Ending: Completing the quest without using Wishbringer at all.
- Guide Dang It!: Even though it was designed as an easier game for new players, Wishbringer has a bad one: the can with the rattlesnake has a false bottom which contains Wishbringer. The only hint is the item rattling even after it's opened, and considering that you likely dropped it after using it the first time, you're not likely to notice.
- Hellhound: Ms. Voss' nasty poodle turns into one.
- Hostage for MacGuffin: Subverted, the hostage is the MacGuffin.
- Lighter and Softer: It's aimed at kids and beginners, so the puzzles are easier and the style lighter and more jokey than many other Infocom games.
- MacGuffin Title: The Wishbringer is the magical stone that the villain is seeking.
- The Maze: The mountain path functions as this in the Dark World; it's shrouded in impenetrable mist, making it impossible to see which way the path goes.
- Ominous Save Prompt: The game prompts you to save before playing the "Transmatter" arcade game. Standard for the genre, and not the only situation where the wrong actions make the game Unwinnable, but they ramp up the ominous factor several times by asking if you really want to play and having the other gamers go quiet.
- One-Word Title: "Wishbringer" is one word.
- The Taming of the Grue: Grues first appeared as the unseen (and, because they never leave pitch-dark areas, unseeable) monsters who would eat adventurers careless enough to wander in dark places without a light source. In Wishbringer they're still dangerous, but played more for laughs; there is a grue lair with a refrigerator whose light goes out when you open it and a mother grue with an apron.
- Tunnel Network: Several locations in Witchville lead to underground tunnels.
- Video Arcade: There's a plot-relevant one on the wharf.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential:
- At one point you encounter the platypus princess trapped in a murder machine; the game gives you the option either to release her or to activate the machine, killing her rather gruesomely.
- You can feed the grue's milk to either of the cats in the game. It... doesn't agree with them.
- You Shouldn't Know This Already: The drawbridge password and the poodle/hellhound's name. There are only three options for the password, and the dog's name never changes, but guessing or looking up the name in the hintbook results in the bridge or dog deciding that you're just guessing and thus not obeying.
The novelization provides examples of:
- Boxed Crook: Simon, the protagonist, is a con artist who's been sentenced to work in the post office. (No relation to any other books with that premise.)
- Cain and Abel: The novelization expands on the familial relationship between the Magick Shoppe proprietor (Gail) and the Evil One (Gladys), and adds another "good" sister, Hortense.
- Chekhov's Skill: Early in the book we see Simon's sleight-of-hand skills; this is ultimately how he keeps Wishbringer out of the Evil One's hands.
- Continuity Nod: The Magick Shoppe owner in the game may be the same person as the sorceress Y'Gael in Beyond Zork; the novelization alludes to this by naming her Gail.
- Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: Simon accidentally wanders into the lair of that bloodthirsty scourge of the Zork universe, the grue... where he has a pleasant chat with the grue in question, who even provides some helpful directions. And then later on he brings by his enemies as an afternoon snack. Who says it doesn't pay to be polite to adventurers? This is absolutely not the case in the game itself, where the closest you get to an adult grue is to raid its fridge while being very careful not to get its attention.
- Exact Words: Amy Sue Grue explains that it's quite true that no one has ever seen a grue and lived to talk about it...but since Simon has only talked to her in the dark, he's okay.
- Here We Go Again!: The book takes the tack that the Evil One plays out the events of the game over and over and over again, being opposed by whoever happens to be working in the post office at the time. As the book ends, the postmaster gives Simon another letter to deliver to the Magick Shoppe...
- MacGuffin: The Wishbringer stone; the Evil One breaks the rules and steals it at the beginning of the story, and Simon's job is to get it back before midnight.
- Minion Shipping: The game's mostly off-screen romance between Librarian Voss and Postmaster Crisp (both of whom are the Evil One's minions in Witchville) gets pretty passionate in the novelization.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Simon really wants to do this, but he's warned that the Evil One takes the postman's participation in her schemes very seriously; if she catches him trying to run away he'll wish she'd only killed him.
- See-Thru Specs: A pair of apparent joke glasses that allow one to tell whether something is magic. (They can also switch someone from their Dark World personality back to their regular one, but only if the person is actually wearing them.)
- Unwanted Assistance: Simon is supplied with a magic radio that provides helpful advice and alerts him to danger... by turning itself on and playing music very loudly, invariably alerting the danger to him as well.