Sunday, May 2, 2010
Ultima IV: Character Creation
If I have any "regular readers," I apologize to you all for my erratic publication schedule. My job involves occasional unexpected business travel, and this month has been particularly heavy. What I need to do is start writing a bunch of postings when I have the time and then publish them at a steadier pace.
In my last posting, I started talking about character creation in Ultima IV and how unique it is, and then I got so wrapped up in the back story and manuals that I ended the piece before actually describing character creation. Let's look at that now. In the introduction, after reading the book of history, you stumble into a renaissance fair, where your ankh cross gains you free admission. You wander into a gypsy's wagon where she begins a kind of tarot card game involving the eight virtues.
As we'll discover, there is wonderful symmetry in Ultima IV. There are eight virtues of the Avatar, and eight character classes that exemplify those eight virtues. Eight towns serve as home to the eight classes, nearby which are eight shrines in which you must chant eight mantras after using eight runes. Each virtue, meanwhile, has an evil opposite which (usually) serves as the name of a dungeon. In the eight dungeons you find eight stones of eight colors.
The game begins with identifying the virtue and, hence, the class, with which you most closely associate. It does this by having the gypsy woman pose a series of hypothetical questions in which you must choose between two virtues. The first question might pit honesty against honor, for instance. Say you choose honor. The next question might give you spirituality and sacrifice. You choose sacrifice. At some point, you'll then have to choose between sacrifice and honor. Hence, you bracket your way to your ultimate guiding virtue and, consequently, your class.
In confess that in past Ultima IV games, I engineered my way into a paladin class by always choosing "honor," regardless of how I actually felt. (Paladins are arguably the best Ultima IV characters--strong fighters who can use almost any equipment but are able to cast spells, too.) This time around, I resolved to answer the questions based on my own moral beliefs regardless of the final outcome.
"Thou has been prohibited by thy absent Lord from joining thy friends in a close pitched battle. Dost though A) refrain, so thou may Honestly claim obedience, or B) show Valor, and aid thy comrades, knwoing thou may deny it later?" No struggle with this one. No arbitrary command from some absentee boss is going to keep me from helping my friends in a fight. I choose valor, and kiss goodbye to the mage class.
"As one of the King's Guard, thy Captain has asked that one amongst you visit a hospital to cheer the children with tales of thy valiant deeds. Dost though A) Show thy Compassion and play the braggart, or B) Humbly let another go?" I'm not sure this is a fair test of compassion, since presumably one of my comrades would entertain the children as well as I. I don't particularly like talking about myself, though, and I like children even less, so I go with humility. I will not be a bard.
"Thou hast sworn to do thy Lord's bidding in all. He covets a piece of land and orders the owner removed. Dost thou A) serve Justice refusing to act, thus being disgraced, or B) Honor thine oath and unfairly evict the landowners?" My Lord's a jerk, and I was an idiot for swearing an oath to a jerk. No need to compound the error. I go with justice and, regrettably, chaotic-good my way out of a paladin assignment.
"Thou hast spent thy life in charitable and righteous work. Thine uncle the innkeeper lies ill and asks you to take over his tavern. Dost thou A) Sacrifice thy life of purity to aid thy kin, or B) decline & follow thy spirit's call?" I'm never terribly moved by the idea of familial obligations in real life, so it's B). The chance to be a tinker is behind me.
"Although a teacher of music, thou art a skillful wrestler. Thou hast been asked to fight in a local championship. Dost thou A) accept the invitation and Valiantly fight to win, or B) Humbly decline knowing thou art sure to win?" The choice of B) doesn't sound like humility in this case; it sounds like arrogance. How would I know that I'm sure to win? In any event, humility is a nice virtue, but I don't think it should mean that I should avoid winning anything. I wave farewell to the life of a shepherd and choose valor.
"Thou dost believe that virtue resides in all people. Thou dost see a rogue steal from thy Lord. Dost thou A) call him to Justice, or B) personally try to sway him back to the Spritual path of good?" Oooh. Really tough call. This is actually a metaphor for a scenario I faced recently. It depends a lot on the likely punishment, but in my case I felt that the punishment was worse than the original crime, so I chose B). I'll do that here, too, even though it means turning my taillights to druidship.
"A local bully pushes for a fight. Dost thou A) Valiantly trounce the rogue, or B) Decline, knowing in thy Spirit that no lasting good will come of it?" "No lasting good?" What about this bully learning his lesson and not picking on other people? Nothing I hate worse than a bully. It's A), no question, which means I reject the path of a ranger and become a standard, run-of-the-mill, no-magic-using fighter instead.
In some ways, this works out fairly well. You see, during Ultima IV I will pick up seven companions--one of each class--to round out my party. There are eight potential NPCs who will join your party, but you don't get to recruit the one who belongs to the same class that you do. Dupre the paladin, Shamino the ranger, and Iolo the bard are three of your most memorable companions from later games in the series, whereas Geoffrey the fighter turns out to be a bit of a wet rag. Thus, I face no great sadness that Geoffrey won't be able to join me here.
Back to the game. Having made my choice, the game informs me that I experience a "moment of intense, wrenching vertigo" while the gypsy advises me to "seek the counsel of they sovereign."
I awake in a forest, on an island, outside a city. I have no equipment, but somewhere along the line I picked up 200 pieces of gold and 300 meals. Two moons float overhead, letting me know in no uncertain terms that I am no longer on earth. After checking my iPhone and finding no service, I steel myself and head for the nearby city to see what's up.