Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ultima VI: Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves

A member of Britannia's Romani population demonstrates his fortune-telling ability.

Since my last post, I have accomplished the following in Ultima VI:

  • Visited all eight major cities, plus Paws
  • Solved all of the quests to get the Runes of Virtue
  • Liberated all of the shrines
  • Talked to all of the NPCs I could find in the cities
  • Added Jaana (from Yew) to my party, thinking it would be nice to have another spellcaster, before deciding it was kind of a pain to have more than one spellcaster
  • Bought swamp boots for all my characters so I wouldn't get poisoned walking through swamps
  • Figured out the next major step on my quest

Rather than organize this and the next couple of postings in strict chronological order, I've decided to offer them as a series of "vignettes" (a la Pulp Fiction) on life and adventuring in Britannia. I'll do at least one more, probably two, like this, and then the main narrative will pick up with the main quest in the next stop.

I did not use my Orb of Moons to travel except 1) to revisit places I'd already been; and 2) to visit the Shrine of Spirituality because I couldn't otherwise figure out how to get there (it's in a void). In all other cases, I took the most direct route by land or sea, fighting whatever combats I encountered on the way. Instead of going in a logical geographic order, I went in the "virtue order" of the cities, so I would maximize wilderness exploration. Naturally, I remembered the basic positions from Ultima IV and V, and the map helped.

The path of my travels.

The Britannian Job

When I closed my last Ultima VI posting, I was in the dungeons beneath Lord British's castle, hoping to make some money. My resolve didn't last much longer. I didn't find any caches of treasure and there weren't enough enemies who carried it, so although the expedition helped my experience point total somewhat, it didn't accomplish its primary purpose.

Back on the surface, I remembered how angry I was at Lord British, and I decided to raid the Royal Mint.

It didn't appear hard. Terri didn't even lock the place up at night. The goodies were stored behind a locked door that didn't respond to any of my picks--and I wasn't going to go so far as to kill Terri for the key--but a distant memory informed me that powder kegs would take care of locked doors, even metal ones. So I broke into the forge on the west end of town and stole a powder keg.

Yes, I'm "stealing!!" That still doesn't repay all the time and sweat Lord British has stolen from me.

I placed the powder keg in front of the Royal Mint's vault and blew it wide open . . .

. . . only to find three locked treasure chests. Magically locked treasure chests. I didn't have any way to open those. I haven't found the "Unlock Magic" spell yet, and skull keys don't exist in this game. So I did the only thing I could think of: I stole the chests whole.

Lift with your legs, boys!

The obvious solution didn't yield any results. I guess magically-locked chests are impervious to just about anything.

If I could just "magically lock" myself, I'd be invincible.

Thus, I decided I had to haul the chests around for the next six hours of gameplay until I finally got the requisite spell. However, in the meantime, I found a few stray gold nuggets and returned to Terri at the mint to sell them to her. I thought the amount she gave me--more than 2,000 gold--was very high, but the significance didn't hit me at the time. Later, when I finally had the "Unlock Magic" spell, and I brought the chests back to Lord British's throne room to taunt him by opening them right in front of him . . .

. . . I was surprised to find them empty except for a couple hundred gold pieces in one of them. Thinking back, I realize what happened: when I sold the nuggets to Terri, she somehow managed to buy the nuggets that were in the magically-locked chests. So even though I ripped off Mr. Nose, he managed to get the last laugh by having me haul around empty chests for about six hours of gameplay. We'll call it even.

Dial "M" for Mondain

Aside from its rune quest, Skara Brae mostly exists in this game to set up an unsolvable murder mystery, a lot of which doesn't make any sense.

The victim is Quenton, a local fisherman. His family had known tragedy before. One day, a couple of "Mondain's henchmen" showed up in the town, looking for someone named "Relthor" or "Renthar." When no one could help them, they took Quenton's wife as a hostage and hauled her off. Her body was later found on the coast. Her daughter, Marney, is an emotionally and physically frail girl, doubly so now that her father has been killed, too.

I might be fuzzy on the games' chronology, but was Mondain really around within living memory? Even if he was, I'm pretty sure that Skara Brae wasn't in the first Ultima, which featured an entirely different landscape. Then again, the books in the Lycaeum suggest that Ultimas I-III took place in Britannia, so it may be another big retcon. I'm also not sure who Relthor or Renthar is supposed to be, though I felt that Trenton, the mayor, was hiding a secret, and his name is almost an anagram. Horance, the crazy local magician, clearly knows something about Relthor/Renthar, as when asked the name, he responds, "Many are pretenders; a harmless game they play. But for the few offenders, of constant night they pray."

In any event, the unlucky Quenton had his throat slit one night outside the Haunted Inn, near the town well. The only witness was Stivius, the local winemaker, and he claims Quenton's killers were three huge gargoyles, whispering in an odd language. However, everyone finds it odd that no one in the nearby inn heard any sounds of trouble. There is a strong suggestion that Stivius might have been sampling his own product, and thus an unreliable witness.

Quenton's ghost haunts the area (the Haunted Inn seems to have acquired its name before the murder, however), but he can't speak, not even with a "Seance" spell (I'm not otherwise sure what the spell is good for). He makes unhelpful gestures instead.

The solution to the mystery is rather clear if you wander out of town in the right direction. A dangerous man named Michael lives in a hut between Britain and Skara Brae. The Skara Brae folks say he comes into town infrequently, and they speak of him with fear (although he seems to be putting the moves on Marney). When I asked him about the MURDER, he cryptically confessed.

The inability of the player to do anything with this knowledge is a bit famous, and I don't think anyone knows whether it was a screw-up on the part of the developers or if they deliberately meant it to be unsolved. The Ultima wiki notes simply that "the Avatar was unable to bring Michael to justice."

I beg to differ.

Don't Want No Winged People 'Round Here

Shamino is friends with a total racist.

I don't know how they know each other--perhaps from Klan meetings--but Stelnar Starhelm has a dream to eliminate all "monsters," including gargoyles, and he's particularly incensed that Sin'Vraal is allowed to live peacefully in his little hut in the desert.

The same way that he imagines that you could, I suppose.

Reminded of Sin'Vraal's existence, I decided to pay him a visit. Now clearly tagged as a "gargoyle" instead of as a "daemon" (in the last game), he told me a little bit about gargoyle culture: winged gargoyles are the only intelligent ones, so they rule the others. But Sin'Vraal, despite having wings, is unable to fly, so his people treated him as a slave.

Maybe I shouldn't feel so bad about wiping out their culture.

It's from Sin'Vraal that I first get an explanation for the game's subtitle. The Book of Prophecies--the Gargish book that I've been lugging around hoping to translate--says that "the False Prophet will come to destroy the gargoyle race." He also mentioned that the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom used to be held in the "Temple of Singularity," a holy place for gargoyles. So their hatred of me is starting to look a little justified.

Anyway, he recommended that I travel to the other side of the world through Hythloth and find a "gargoyle scholar" to learn more. Doesn't this mean that my quest for the other half of the silver tablet is now moot? Maybe there's more in the book, but why can't Sin'Vraal just translate it himself? I guess I'm going to proceed as if I still need to find it, but heading straight to the gargoyle homeworld and finding out why they want to kill me seems like the more sensible course of action.

The End of the World As We Know It

Wisps in Ultima IV and Ultima V were so annoying that I added them to my "most annoying RPG enemies" list. They possessed your party members, teleported around the battlefield, and took forever to kill.

In this game, we find out they're not evil, just misunderstood. What we call "wisps" are just astral projections of life in the Xorinite dimension. The living creatures of the dimension apparently form a collective consciousness and don't understand the concept of "individuality" among the creatures in Britannia. They don't understand why every time someone talks to them, they have to re-explain who they are and where they come from.

I encountered one in the forest somewhere near Yew and remembered enough from the previous game to talk rather than attack. The wisp explained that Xorinia "serves as a conduit for information between different planes." The wisp offered me some "sample information" and said that it would reward me if I brought it "a reasonably dense information source," which I take to mean one of the books from the Lycaeum.

The "sample information" turned out to be the "Armageddon" spell, which fortunately I'm not high enough level to cast.

The wisp describes the spell as "a simple invocation of magic to bring about the cessation of all life," but dismisses it as not being very useful because "it will only affect beings in the same place where it is invoked." The wisp further said that it had previously given the spell to a Britannian life unit named "Zog," but that "no further contact with Britannia was obtainable for some time after this. Perhaps misuse of the sample information was responsible."

This is a joke relating to the "bones of Zog" exhibit in the Royal Museum, which the caretaker describes as "about ten times older" than any other skeleton discovered in Britannia. Clearly, Zog got the "Armageddon" spell from the wisps, used it, and destroyed all other life in Britannia. Thousands of years had to pass before anyone populated the land again.

It's a cute idea, but it has two major holes. First, the land wouldn't have been called "Britannia" when the wisp contacted Zog. Second, having discovered the bones thousands of years later, how would the Britannians have any idea that this early inhabitant was named "Zog"?

Anyway, I'm now possessed of a spell that will allow me to destroy all life in any universe once I reach Level 8. Nice for the wisps to just pass this around.

The Secret of Nim

"Dr. Cat"--alter-ego of David Shapiro, credited as the lead writer of the game--runs the tavern in Paws, just as he did in Ultima V. The place is crawling with cats--no health codes in Britannia, apparently--but fortunately they didn't seem to have any problems with Sherry.

The cats ignore the mouse wandering around the kitchen. Just like at my house.

Dr. Cat offers gambling in the form of nim, a child's game that has been perfectly solved for all of its variations. In Dr. Cat's, the players start with a pile of 10 matchsticks. The players take turns drawing 1, 2, or 3 sticks, and the player to draw the last stick wins.

The solution is simple. To ensure you're the last one to draw, you need to leave your opponent with 4 sticks (if you leave him with less, he'll draw 1-3 and win; if you leave him with more, he'll draw as many as necessary to leave you with 4). To ensure you end up with a situation in which your opponent has 4 sticks, in the previous round you have to leave him with 8. Thus, starting with 10 sticks, if the first player draws 2, he'll automatically win the game unless his opponent screws up. Dr. Cat never screws up.

The game randomizes the order of who goes first, so essentially you have a 50/50 chance of winning every time you fire up the game. An unscrupulous player could save-scum for gold here.

The game also gives you a perfectly legitimate way to make unending gold in Paws: Arbeth the weaver sells spools of thread for 3 gold pieces; Thindle the cloth-maker, a few houses away, buys them for 6. I only sold a couple of them, so perhaps Arbeth eventually runs out or Thindle eventually tells you that he has enough.

The people in this town really need to communicate better.

Dr. Cat also had some intelligence on the gypsies, warning me not to mix up Zoltan's honorable band with a group of thieves and con artists camped north of Trinsic. That turned out to be good advice.

Born in the Wagon of a Traveling Show

All of my explorations were a side-effect of trying to find a band of gypsies that might know where to get the other half of the silver tablet--the Rosetta Stone that translates Gargish into Britannian. Mariah had said that she met them at a pub.

I encountered the "bad" band of gypsies before the good ones. They're permanently camped north of Trinsic, and they consist of Arturos (self-styled "King of the Gypsies"), Andreas ("Prince of the Gypsies"), and "Wicked Wanda." Every exchange with them seemed to result in my pocket getting picked, or Wanda offering sex.

The Avatar is not necessarily above this, but he does draw the line at homeless people.

When I asked about the silver tablet, Arturos told me that it came from the Isle of the Avatar, but he was clearly just making stuff up. I briefly mused about killing the thieves to recover my stolen gold but ultimately left them cold and miserable in the rain.

Zoltan, who also calls himself "King of the Gypsies," travels with his daughter Karina, a seer named Taynith, a juggler named Blaine (who will join the party), and a dog named Kador. In mechanical terms, the band doesn't so much "travel" as just appear randomly at various stops between Britain and Trinsic. I spent a long time searching for them fruitlessly before I finally just walked off the screen near Britain's pub and walked back on, and there they were.

I talk to the dog while Blaine juggles nearby.

The game has some fun with the relative fortune-telling abilities of Taynith and Arturos. Where Taynith offers subtle and nuanced interpretations of tarot cards, Arturos interprets the pictures quite literally.

Zoltan's little band is missing a member: his other daughter Penumbra, who lives in Moonglow in that house whose foyer is blocked by all the force fields. Visiting her was instrumental in solving the rune quest for the city (recounted next time), but she also had a little fortune-telling to do.

Great. One is violet, one blue. I'm sure I won't have any trouble telling them apart.
Zoltan had a lot more (legitimate) to say about the silver tablet. He said he first got it from a man called "Captain John." I assume he actually means Johne, the captain who I found marooned in the underworld in Ultima V, having unwittingly spawned the Shadowlords when he murdered his companions with the shards of Mondain's gem. He's apparently now living on the other side of the world with the gargoyles, and "talks as if there's nothing evil about them."

John had paid Zoltan to take the tablet to the Lycaeum because, after all, you should always entrust valuable items made of precious metal to gypsies.

On the way to the Lycaeum, the gypsies were attacked by a pirate named Captain Hawkins. During the attack, the tablet was broken, and the pirates got away with the bigger half. Zoltan suggested I go inquiring about it at Buccaneer's Den. I have yet to visit that city.

That wraps up my first set of vignettes on life and travel in Britannia. Next time, we'll talk about the rune quests, followed by one on miscellaneous encounters and NPCs, before we return to the path of the main quest in Buccaneer's Den. I already have the next two posts mostly-written, so hopefully my dry spell is over for a time.


  1. Angry Avatar! The self entitled anti-hero of Britannia, "You have Lost an eighth!"

  2. I -believe- that the lenses can be described by a look action instead of just taking advantage of some people's abilities to see colours innately, Chet. (Though I did take that as slightly tongue-in-cheek, don't worry.)

    1. I've won the game before, so I must have figured it out somehow.

    2. Scratch-n'-sniff? XD

      But, yeah, "Look" works. Because, they not only differ in color, they also differ in $#@₱ℇ.

  3. That's why I love this game so much. There is so much personality in Britannia, so many things to do, so many people to meet. And relatively little focus on combat, grinding and no min-maxing.

    Also, about having your companions use magic, I think it is technically possible for them to do so in this game but compared to any previous Ultima, they are all pretty weak in magic with low MP. They finally officially phased having companions use magic out of the game starting with U7.

    1. Right, it's "technically possible," in that you can buy them a spellbook. But you also have to buy every spell a second time, and a new set of reagents, and so forth. I'm just not sure it's worth the bother.

    2. Could Jaana actually cast spells? I thought when I played this, even though her portrait has an aura and she talks like a druid, her icon was "woman" and she didn't have any magic points. The main value in having her join is that she has a storm cloak which you keep for yourself after you boot her from the party. It has similar effect as the Crown in Ultima 5.

    3. Ha! You're absolutely right. She has 0/0 magic. No storm cloak, though--I'm not sure they exist in this game. I don't know why I missed that before.

      Iolo and Shamino can cast, but they have 8 and 9 spell points compared to my Avatar's 60. I guess I'll be the only one casting spells.

    4. You'll only need them to cast the occasional An Zu and An Nox. Other than that, they're pretty useless in the magician department.

    5. Storm cloaks do exist in this game. One of them is even a plot-related item. Won't spoil anymore though.

    6. In the depths of the dungeon Hythloth, the Avatar has exhausted his spellcasting power in battle with a fierce daemon. The daemon has slain Dupre and is turning its fury upon the Avatar. Shamino bravely declares, “Do not let your heart grow faint, brave Avatar! I, Shamino, shall rush to your aid! Might I please borrow your spell book and bag of reagents?”

      The Avatar shields himself from the daemon’s blow while passing the ancient tome and reagents to Shamino.

      “CORP POR!” intones Shamino. A lethal bolt, darker than a moonless Britannian night, flies from Shamino’s hand… and sails over the daemon’s left shoulder, striking dead a hapless bat sleeping nearby. Iolo and Shamino share a worried glance.

      The Avatar, in distress, calls out, “Again, Shamino! Cast the spell again! Your aim must be true!”

      Shamino mumbles, “Uh, yes Avatar, the thing is, you see, perhaps in an hour or so, I'm feeling rather... uh... depleted... Iolo! Catch!” And with this, Shamino tosses the spell book and bag of reagents to Iolo.

      Iolo, ever ready, catches the spell book, and calls out nine times, “An Mani! An Mani! An Mani!”, rapid-firing a stream of gleaming magic missiles toward the daemon. As with his lethal crossbow, Iolo’s aim is true, striking the daemon directly in the heart.

      The daemon looks up, and bellows in an unearthly voice, “HA HA HA HA! STOP IT! THAT TICKLES! HOO HA HA HA!” and proceeds to eviscerate the Avatar.

    7. Sorry, why is only the avatar using magic a GOOD thing? What if I want my avatar to be a dashing fighter, not a wizard, does that mean I just don't get to use magic?

    8. Well, my good man, the Avatar is THE Epitome of Perfection. So, he is BOTH a Dashing Fighter AND a Bloody Archmage. Unlike most other RPG archetypes who are either Specialists or Jack-Of-All-Trades, the Avatar excels in every possible aspect of life which he/she decide to delve into. In U7, I tried baking bread to earn some gold in a bakery, I ended up churning up confectioneries 6 times faster than the baker himself. The only thing I failed in, is to act as the Avatar in an upcoming play about myself.

  4. As far as I can tell, the avatar never actually did anything to bother the gargoyles (besides for killing so many over the years). Lord British and the council made the decision to take the codex after you had already left. All you did was visit and leave.

    1. Everyone is running around causing trouble and only you can fix it. Once you fix it, people tell you to get lost, they'll call you when something is broken again.

      Being the Avatar must feel like being the only adult in Neverland.

    2. That's true! I sometimes forget that the events of Ultima IV, Part 2 aren't canonical.

  5. Hmmm...Skara Brae...Michael...A possible tip of the helm to Michael Cranford who designed the first two Bard's Tale games?

  6. That dialogue from Michael includes the red-shaded word "debt"! The compulsive Avatar in me yearns to know more about the debt!!

    1. Oh, he digs his hole deeper: "Surely you don't buy the fable of the gargoyle. There wouldn't be enough left to bury if this were the case. This was no monster who settled the debt; it was the work of man's hands." He brings the knife to his teeth and delicately works it btween them.

  7. I played Ultima 3 and 4 at your behest not too long ago, which I quite enjoyed. But so far this game looks simply amazing. The story and exploration look incredible, though the interface seems unpleasant, at least aesthetically.

    I'm not sure if I should try the Dungeon Siege remakes or the originals. Anyone have any advice?

    1. Play the Dungeon Siege remake; it's brilliant.

  8. If you're hurting for cash, you can take another book to the wisps and decline their offer of knowledge for knowledge. Be sure to have plenty of open spaces in your inventory first!

  9. To get to the Shrine of Spirituality without using the Orb of Cheating, I mean the Orb of the Moons:

    Through a glowing door, by the full moon's light / for me to tell you more would take us half the night.

    It's kind of a hassle though - to find a blue moongate you either go to a shrine that's not freed yet, or else you re-bury a moonstone that you got from a shrine. And that's a Bad Idea in this game.

    1. I was about to say that.

      Anyway, just do what you did in the previous Ultimas and you're good to go.

    2. Judging by the rhyme, I'm guessing Horance says that.

    3. Yes, I believe the other townsfolk tell you to ask Horance about the shrine.

      What is curious is that the gargoyles have corrupted the shrine with the field around the moonstone, so they know how to get there, but they do not bother to guard it.

    4. That's because...

      Winged Gargoyle: You! Guard The Shrine of Spirituality!
      Wingless Gargoyle: But... there's nothing here but the Void!
      Winged Gargoyle: Exactly! You can come back next Full Moon's Midnight.
      Wingless Gargoyle: What an assho- I mean, yes sir.
      Winged Gargoyle: Very good.

      ~A month later~
      Winged Gargoyle: Chlorexorgasm? Where are you? Oh... f#ck! There's nothing to hunt or forage in the f#cking Void!

    5. It really makes you wonder how the Britannians manage to keep a working system of moongates when any nobody can come dig the moonstones up and bury them in the nearest chamberpot.

    6. I tried waiting for the double full moons to enter the shrine like I did in U4 and U5, and after three Britannian months of constant (R)esting, and over an hour of real world time, I broke down and use the Orb of Cheating for the only time.

      The point I gave up was when I saw double dark moons for the 2nd time, making me think a full cycle and been completed.

      If it's actually possible to enter the shrine without the orb I'm very curious as to how long it takes to get the moons to cooperate.

    7. In U5 and U6, you get to the shrine by entering a moongate at exactly midnight. Some NPC will tell you this. It's only double dark in U4.

  10. When I played Ultima VI way back, I never was able to get Michael's name in Skara Brae. Everyone there has something to say about him, but he doesn't give you his name if you ask him. How are you supposed to get it in the first place?

    1. When you talk to an NPC, even if he or she doesn't provide his or her name, the game still gives you a caption with the person's name the next time you speak to him or her. That must be how I got it.

    2. I've been replaying U6 the last week or so and had a similar thought: how do you get Michael's name in the first place? I've been talking to everyone in Skara Brae and they don't exactly mention him; instead they mention travelers, but not even Gideon can tell me who "they" were (he doesn't have a guest book?). It's such an interesting mystery filled with so many strange holes and out-of-place lore, it would have been great if players could have solved it. Or, better yet, if the rune had somehow been connected to it. I still find it hard to believe that it was hiding where it was and not even the keeper of the rune knew it (trying to be vague to avoid spoilers, though I guess that's unlikely).

  11. I'm surprised nobody has mentioned that (apparently) Captain Hawkins is a reference to Trip Hawkins, CEO of Electronic Arts, who I think at that point were in discussions about buying Origin. I don't recall when nor how the relationship soured, but there are further unflattering references to EA in future Ultimas.


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