Thursday, March 15, 2018

Ultima Underworld: Artifice and Artifacts

The Avatar contemplates something rash.
Let's take a moment to consider the "eight arcane artifacts" collected by Sir Cabirus, of which I now have seven (the Avatar seems to have completely forgotten about rescuing kidnapped girls). They are:
  • Book of Truth or Honesty depending on whether you go by the manual (Truth) or the in-game description (Honesty)
  • Ring of Humility
  • Cup of Wonder
  • Shield of Valor
  • Standard of Honor
  • Sword Caliburn, unique in not naming a virtue, but according to its description, it could "cleave truth from falsehood."
  • Taper of Sacrifice
  • Wine of Compassion
The artifacts are a near-but-not-perfect fit with the eight virtues of the Avatar: honesty, compassion, valor, justice, honor, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility. The manual's use of "Book of Truth" was a bad idea, because not only is truth a "principle" of virtue, and not a virtue, but there was already an artifact of that name, used with the Candle of Love and the Bell of Courage to enter the Abyss in Ultima IV. If all three artifacts had made a re-appearance here, that wouldn't have been a bad idea, but it's clear from the backstory that these artifacts are a new set.
I obtain the Shield of Valor from a golem.
Though it doesn't say so anywhere, Caliburn is clearly supposed to be associated with justice. Spirituality, however, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we get the "Cup of Wonder." It supposedly comes from an ancient oak in Skara Brae, so it has that connection to spirituality, but I question whether "wonder" and "spirituality" are truly synonyms, and even so, whether a cup is the best way to depict it. Yes, I sometimes see weird things and get a sense of awe when I'm drunk, but I wouldn't exactly call that "spiritual."

Some of the other choices are also odd. I'm all for the Standard of Honor, the Book of Honesty, and the Taper of Sacrifice. The latter is a particularly good metaphor: it "produces light only through its own destruction." On the other hand, literally displaying humility on your finger as jewelry seems a bit paradoxical. And why is wine associated with compassion? I guess we can add sympathy to the virtues we can only feel three sheets to the wind. Meanwhile, a sword only symbolizes "justice" in cases where someone has to be killed. If the person is innocent, that's not really just; that's terrifying. I don't know what should symbolize innocence--maybe a key or some kind of check for reparations. Actually, that would be a better idea: the Coin of Justice. It goes the defendant if falsely accused and to the victim otherwise. The sword should be associated with valor: the commandment to seek and destroy evil. Then you make the shield associated with compassion, because you're literally shielding people from danger. For spirituality, you make a damned ankh cross that you can carry with you, because it's the sign of spirituality (as well as the "complete" eight virtues) everywhere else in the setting. Really, how hard is this?
Nothing says humility like bling!
In any event, I started this session with the blade part of Caliburn, the Standard of Honor, and the Taper of Sacrifice. I collected the rest over the course of Levels 5 and 6.

Both levels replaced water with lava--rivers and pools of it all over the place. It was naturally deadly to fall into, but on Level 5, I found a "ghoul" who fancied himself a tailor. When I showed him my dragon scales, he made a set of fireproof "dragon skin boots" from them in exchange for some food. The boots allow me to walk freely across the lava, because lava is perfectly safe as long as it doesn't come in direct contact with your skin.
A scientifically-accurate screen shot.
Level 5 appeared to be the ruins of Sir Cabirus's administration center. It was dominated by a large "High State Chamber" with multiple alcoves overlooking it and a huge rectangular meeting table. These days, it was swarming with headless, skeletons, and giant spiders. Weeds and mushrooms grew in the corners of the formerly-noble corridors, now patrolled by ghosts.
Fighting a headless next to Cabirus's meeting table.
The southwestern part of the level was taken up by a set of "zanium" mines, and the southeastern corridors were the homes of "ghouls," basically just humans who had resorted to cannibalism to stay alive and had thus become outcast from other humans. Some of the ghouls had fallen so far that they lost their minds and became hostile--one might even say "feral"--and attacked me in the areas outside the enclave.
None of this explains why their language degraded.
The northeastern section served as the cemetery for the Abyss, with multiple rooms full of gravestones, and a ghost or skeleton standing next to just about every stone. Oddly, the whole "bullfrog" puzzle from Level 4 was dedicated to finding a back stairway down to this area, but you can reach it without having to solve that puzzle via an obvious secret door. 
In a world of undead, why isn't everyone just cremated?
Level 6 was a complicated level full of lava, platforms above and around the lava, and islands within it. It took a lot of jumping to get around the level. Within that lava, a new enemy was introduced: fire elementals. These bastards are capable of throwing actual fireballs at you. I defeated them by hiding behind nearby walls and darting out to zap them with a Wand of Lightning.
I'm close here, but you really don't want to get this close.
The southern area of Level 6 was dominated by the Seers, including about eight named NPCs who had various side-quests and hints for the artifacts. One of them, named Dominus, agreed to identify my items, which was nice, but he requires 10 gold pieces per identification. Gold is heavy to carry around. I was a little annoyed that he wouldn't take gems or gold nuggets or anything. Still, I left plenty of gold on Level 4, and after this session, I'll probably spend some time shuttling it down.

The first clue I got about an artifact was from a ghoul named Shanklick, who said the pommel for Caliburn was hidden among the tombs in the northeast section of the level. Sure enough, it was just laying there on the ground. I'm glad no one tossed it in the trash. I ran it back up to Shak on Level 2, who reunited it with the blade for 20 gold pieces.
This reminds me of my favorite scene in Lord of the Rings, where the elf smith assembles the broken shards of Narsil on the anvil and starts hammering away at the cracks, as if that's how broken blades are actually reforged.
Caliburn replaced my jeweled magic longsword. I don't care if Caliburn is technically the best weapon in the game or not. It's indestructible, it's magic, and it's a sword. No way am I adding 4 more pounds to my encumbrance to carry something else.

("Caliburn" is, of course, the original version of what would become "Excalibur" in Arthurian legend. The original form is found in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae of 1136. The sword is called Caledfwlch in Welsh legend and its variants include "Esclabor," "Eschaliborc," and "Estalibore." In the earliest tales featuring the Sword in the Stone, Excalibur is that sword, but in later versions, including Malory, the Sword in the Stone is a different sword, and Arthur gets Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake.)

The next artifact I found was the Ring of Humility. It should have been the first, but when I originally reached the lever puzzle in the northwest corner of Level 5, I had forgotten that one of the knights already gave me the solution.
Getting the Ring of Humility was a matter of flipping four switches in the right order while avoiding the center of the room.
On Level 6, a seer named Dr. Owl was grateful that I'd freed his associate, Murgo, from the lizardmen on the earlier level. He not only gave me a Flam rune but told me where to find the Wine of Compassion under a secret compartment in a checkerboard area of the level.
Is it the wine itself or the bottle that holds the enchantment?
The clue to the Book of Honesty came from a seer named Morlock. To get it, I had to deliver a book to him from another seer without reading it, then answer honestly when he praised me for killing a hydra. The kicker? I'd already found the Book of Honesty by just wandering around.
It's a good thing I remembered I hadn't killed such a beast. I kill so many things.
The last artifact I obtained was the Shield of Valor, held by a stone golem standing on a platform amidst a pool of lava. He warned me when I approached that he was nigh-unbeatable, and that he had been placed there to test knights.

In combat with the stone golem.
He was tough, but I was able to defeat him by quaffing a few potions during the battle and using my Wand of Fireball a few times. When I had the shield, I replaced my existing tower shield under the same logic as the sword above.

As far as the Cup of Wonder, I have a couple of clues but no idea what to do with them. A seer on Level 6 taught me how to use incense and a torch to have visions. I got a stark one of what I assume is the Cup of Wonder floating in space.
I mean, it's a nice cup, sure.
Meanwhile, a ghoul named Eyesnack said he used to play the flute for Sir Cabirus, who enjoyed a spiritual called "Mardin's Song of Wonder." Eyesnack taught me the notes to play it, and I have a flute, but I don't know where to play it, only that if "you play it in the right place, wondrous thing happen." Maybe it will become clear on a lower level.
In addition to the artifacts, there were of course plenty of side quests on the two levels. The single ankh shrine on Level 5 was tended by a mage named Anjor who wanted me to help him find a mineral called "zanium" which helps in the process of turning lower metals to gold. The dwarves apparently used to mine it in the southwest section of the level, but the mines were closed and locked by a lever puzzle.
I'm surprised you don't have other priorities here in the Abyss.
A ghoul named Kneenibble had once worked in the mines and knew the code to set the levers, but he wanted 10 fish before he'd give me the code. I had to return to an earlier level and use the fishing pole for a while.

With his code, I set the levers, entered the mine, ran around collecting zanium, and returned it to Anjor. He promised me he'd make me a huge gold nugget, but it would take an hour. I wandered away to do more exploring in the meantime and completely forgot to go back until now, as I type this. I almost don't want to. I don't have space for a huge gold nugget and don't know what I need it for anyway.
Fighting a ghost while collecting zanium.
Also on Level 5, standing on a platform amidst the lava, I encountered Judy, an old woman pining for her lost lover, Tom. She said she used to have a picture to remember him but had since lost it. I got a chill of terror when I met Judy and immediately took a save game that I'm keeping separate. The last time I played Ultima Underworld, Judy fell into the lava, and I was unable to complete the game because she has some key item. (I can't honestly remember if that was the second or only time I played this previously; it's possible that even back in the 1990s, I didn't win the game.) To test how that might have happened, I spent some time bumping into Judy, and while she does fall into the lava, she doesn't sink--she just stands there. So I'm not sure what happened the first time. I just pray it doesn't happen again.
This probably wasn't nice, but I had to know.
Of the other Level 6 seers, one of them told me that there are lost mantras that can deliver items or information when used at shrines. One powerful mantra was "divided into three parts," but she didn't know any of them. Illomo wants me to find his friend Gurstang, but I haven't yet. Ranthru wanted me to return a stolen copy of On the Properties of Runestones and increased my magic ability when I did. Fyrgen recently had a vision of some kind of demon entering our world.
Miscellaneous notes:

  • I am heartily sick of being poisoned.
Argh. Enough of this.
  • It's funny how the designers made the ghosts look like stereotypical Halloween ghosts.
Why not just give them cloth sheets?
  • The toughest puzzle I faced on Level 5 was getting out of an area where a grate closed behind me. The solution was to use a key found in the area on the grate. I hope you can understand why it took me so long--what was I using the key on?
The key unlocks what lock?
  • I haven't been mentioning it much, but every time I sleep, the face that started the game--I assume it's Sir Cabirus--appears in my dreams with fragments of text. He never really manages to say anything coherent.
". . . eat a balanced diet."
If you drink more than 2 bottles of regular alcohol, your vision goes wonky. If you drink more than 4, you pass out and wake up in the morning.
  • Sick of encumbrance problems, I ditched my plate leggings for some leather ones, saving 4 pounds. Combat hasn't been hard enough that I need all this plate.
I found the final mantras to the skills on these levels. "Lore" was one of the last that I found, and afterwards I spent four slots on it, but my current level (18) still isn't enough to identify everything. I'm between 17 and 20 with "Attack," "Defense," "Sword," "Mana," and "Casting." Annoyingly, I'm about to hit the game's level maximum of 16. I'm currently at 15. That grinds my gears. A level cap should never be reachable through normal gameplay unless the player does a lot of grinding.

I stopped leveling "Search" because I seem to do well enough finding secret doors at its current level (14), and honestly, I'm not sure what the skill really does because it seems to me that every time you eyeball a secret door, it tells you. I haven't found a lock I've needed to pick in about two levels, so I stopped leveling that skill. I have not once used my 11 points in "Repair," since my items rarely degrade below "serviceable." "Swimming" no longer seems a good investment, but I suppose a few more points in "Acrobat" might have helped against some damage. Frankly, the most baffling skill to me is "Traps." Is there a single trap in the game? 
Some of the ways that the game teaches you mantras are amusing.
I am pleased to report that I at last have a complete rune bag. My last two were Flam, given to me by Dr. Owl the Seer, and Vas, the result of following a complex set of instructions from a seer named Gralwart. Perhaps now is the time to start casting more spells than In Lor ("Light"), In Mani ("Heal"), and In Mani Ylem ("Create Food").

I'll try to test more spells from the spellbook on the last two levels, especially since I've learned so many undocumented spells, like "Monster Summoning," "Sheet Lightning," and "Turn Undead" from scrolls and NPCs.
This would have been more useful on the earlier level.
As for the monsters that I might encounter to test the spells on, a quick scan of the bestiary shows that I have yet to face any golems other than the stone golem, imps, reapers, invisible "shadow beasts," or wisps.

Despite my demonstrated ability to tackle two levels at a time, I suspect the events on the next two will be complicated enough that I'll need at least two or three more entries to finish this one. Still having a great time.

Time so far: 21 hours


  1. The sword is one of the three conventional attributes of the personification of Justice - the others are the blindfold and the scales. In that context the sword is meant to symbolize not specifically a threat of death, but rather the power and authority of the state (said symbolism also shows up with rulers who carry swords as badges of authority - or think of the use of the sword in the knighthood ceremony). So it seems like a reasonable choice here though I agree that it might work better with the sword as valor.

    1. The description "severs truth from falsehood" actually makes the sword a powerful symbol of justice IMO: the edge of intellect being used to sort through different sides of a tale, arriving at a conclusion that we hope to be just. In the extreme, justice has to deliver death via the sword, as well. Always struck me as one of the better-imagined talismans.

      The cup of wonder probably refers to the holy grail, which is as spiritual as it gets. I'm flabbergasted an arthurian scholar like our addict hasn't worked that one out! ;-)

  2. I seem to recall the Zanium mines with the ghosts have a special map layout that's very "meta", but I didn't see you mention it in extra notes so it's possible I'm misremembering or you didn't think it was worth noting.

    1. pacman

      - rodrigo

    2. That's interesting. Despite the ghosts and "pellets" that you automatically pick up and the shape of the area, it went over my head.

    3. Oddly, I think that this is only the second time you've played a game that had a "retro" level included, and the first time was in a game being played simultaneously. This game has the Pac-Man maze, and Nippon has the Ultima III homage. Quite an odd coincidence.

    4. Nethack has the "Rogue level".

    5. Is that in the version already played? I could have sworn that was a later addition. I don't remember the Nethack posts very well, so I don't know if it was mentioned.

    6. Nethack also has a Sokoban level, although I have no idea at which point in the long history of Nethack it was added.

    7. I believe Nethack added the Rogue level in 3.1.0, in 1993. The Sokoban level didn't come until significantly later, until 3.3.0 in 1999.

      I remember being pretty entertained by the "retro" level in Ultima Underworld II, as well. (But no spoilers here, despite being a long way off.)

  3. "Some of the ghouls had fallen so far that they lost their mines"

    I'm sure they would have been great miners, but I'm also pretty sure you meant "minds" ;)

  4. My friend Dan worked on Ultima Underworld, and shared a few stories about it. You might enjoy this tidbit about Eyesnack:

    1. Nice!
      Also: He even mentions "Judy falling into the lava"

    2. Yup, full Judy story here:

    3. But in the gif above, she doesn't die... maybe she has to stay on the grill for a while to be well done? Or some kind bug fixer somewhere between the original release and this GOG verison gave all NPCs dragon scale boots?

    4. On one of the later levels I knocked a tough enemy into lava but he was still wandering around. I went down to finish him off and killed him in one blow, which suggests he was taking damage over time - that might be the case with Judy.

  5. Given that the Ring of Humility is described as a "plain iron ring," I suspect the intent was to take an object representing Pride (jewelry) and subvert it by making it as plain and unassuming as possible.

    Similar to how the "town" of Humility in Ultima IV is actually the town of Pride (Magincia) - but destroyed.

    1. I see what you're saying, but really ANY jewelry, unless it has some kind of function, is superfluous and thus non-humble. It would work better if the ring had an enchantment that lowered charisma or something.

    2. Yaknow, I think you're really overthinking this stuff. When Origin made their Ultimas, the fact that they spent any thought *at all* about truth, justice, etc. was considered remarkable. The nuts-and-bolts gameplay was most important, the thinking behind the story was way back there. Honestly someone just cranked out these artifacts after smoking a joint and called it a day.

      "Really, how hard is this?"

      Eyesnack, Shanklick, Kneenibble. (body part) + (synonym for eat) is about as much thought as they put into it.

    3. It's somewhat of a paradox, we can only quibble about the lore aspects of Ultima games because they put so much detail into them in the first place.

    4. Humility isn't about complete deprivation and asceticism, it's about acknowledging your limits and not pretending to be more than you actually are. A simple adornment like a plain iron ring is quite humble in that regard.

      After all, the exemplar of Humility in Ultima isn't a beggar, it's a shepherd.

    5. I concede your point that humility doesn't necessarily require you to walk around unadorned. I still think that if you're trying to create an object that EXEMPLIFIES humility, a piece of jewelry is an odd choice.

      Harland, I have dedicated 8 years and almost 2 million words to a subject that even the most fervent fans would have to admit is "trivia." The word "overthinking" really doesn't have any place here.

    6. If you think of it, no symbol is particularly good at exemplifying "humility", because the existence of the symbol itself is less than humble.

      Viewed in that light, a bit of unadorned, non-precious jewelry is not that odd. It is, after all, a complete inversion of conventional jewelry, and conventional jewelry tends to imply pride or vanity. Viewed in that light, the concept has some logic to it.

    7. Chet: I know of at least one ring in the real world used to mark humility. Canadian engineers are all given an iron (I hear some are now steel) ring worn on your pinky finger on graduating. The originals (including my Grandfathers) where made of a bridge that fell down and killed a lot of people in Quebec as an engineer made a math error and didn't check their numbers before singing off on the project.

      Heck, it is even iron as well, leading me to wonder if it was copied from the Canadian ceremony.

    8. Well, that was a downer. But I concede that a piece of jewelry could indeed exemplify humility--if you know the backstory of the ring.

    9. Yeah. However, on reading your comment, I'm now less sure as I recalled how much pride engineers I know take in earning their iron rings.

  6. The Cup of Wonder representing Spirituality is likely the Sangreal

    1. I agree it could have been inspired by the Holy Grail, but it doesn't make a lot of sense--just like regular crosses--in the Ultima setting.

    2. How much sense does Caliburn make, then? I believe since travel between our world and Sosaria is possible in the Ultima canon, and Sosaria has standing stones and knights and monsters and magic and stuff, Sosaria is quite possible the origin of Arthurian myth in our world where Ultima canon is concerned. So why shouldn't the grail have its roots in the Cup of Wonder?

    3. I always suspect it was inspired by this:

    4. The manual says that "Caliburn" is named after a famous sword from the Avatar's home world, so it makes a little more sense.

  7. In early playthroughs, I never solved the boots puzzles, but it was alright, I ended up just flying around all the lower levels. I honestly think they are overpowered as they are singlehandedly negating the biggest architectural/dungeon design challenge of the late game. They should have minimized damage, but you would still get hurt, just more slowly, or they would have needed to use magic energy to work, and slowly deplete your mana until you run out and they stop working. It would have kept the tension, not made all lava into just another floor texture.

    1. Good point. I agree that would have been better.

    2. In that case, the levitation spell line is dumb, as well. Or at the very least, the spells should have much shorter durations (only allowing short 'hops'), and they shouldn't have included an item allowing constant levitation in the late game.

    3. I don't remember the levitation item... Fly spells are also potentially very dangerous to gameplay design, and that's why they are really rare in cRPGs in general: if it's present, you have to think all your puzzles and level design as if the player could just ignore all terrain. And you end setting up all kinds of anti-magic or anti-fly zones...

      But here in Ultima, at least it requires some mana to cast and has some finite duration, and levitation has the drawback of being very slow. The boots just have no drawback.

  8. As you have discovered, almost all the miscellaneous skills are useless. Swim is usurped by Water Walk, Repair by Shak, lockpick by Open Locks, and Search by just looking at the map. I'm fairly sure Traps is the most useless skill in the game. Appraise and Charm are useless as no one has anything worth bartering for, and I'm not really sure what Sneak and Tracking do. Seeing as how it makes sense to focus on just 1 weapon type, that makes just 6 skills that are worth putting points into. Not one of the strong points of the game IMO.

    1. I think we can be a little more charitable. Most of the miscellaneous skills are DUPLICATED, not necessarily useless. This gives the player the option to favor a magic-heavy character or a skill-heavy character or some balance between the two. The fact that not all character builds are equally viable is too bad, but it's a rare game that lets you make this kind of choice at all.

    2. Search skill actually does something you can't otherwise get, I believe: only with some Search skill does the map display secret doors if memory serves. Or maybe I'm trippin'...

    3. I was curious about the search skill and looked around the web to find out what it actually does. I'll quote some sources on this topic; note that some of the later sources can be considered
      ====== SPOILERS ======
      about this game mechanic if you prefer to play the game according to your own understanding without knowing the definite truth. After all, this influences how much skill points you put into search, not only in this game but also in Ultima Underworld II. But I think that using ROT13 here would be a bit overkill and hindering discussion; so don't read on if you don't want to know!

      The manual says:
      Search (DX) Training which heightens your perceptions. This skill increases your chance of detecting hidden doors and traps. This skill is applied automatically whenever you Look at something.

      and, also from the manual:
      (At some point you will want to Look around the Silver Sapling room carefully, examining walls, objects and everything else — there is a secret door in the area, but you’ll have to look carefully to find it. This secret door can be seen on-screen if you keep your eyes open. Others are too well-hidden to be spotted by the naked eye. You’re unlikely to find these unless a character tells you about them in conversation. Even then, you must click on the Look icon and look at the walls. Your search skill takes over at this point and, if you’re observant, a secret door will be revealed.)

      The Ultima Codex Wiki says:
      Search - Comments: worthless. This skill is pointless, as it is possible to find every secret door in the game easily with a zero in this skill.

      Some walkthrough says:
      SKILLS - the only skills really worth getting are: (...)
      search - yes, you can find some secret doors without, and some that you'll get if you click on them enough, but it's really useful to just have it be more nearly automatic.

      Some forum post says:
      Before that diagonal wall, there should be a flat wall, which you must use the Look action some times. It doesn't matter if your search skill is high, it is easier to find the walls, but still possible to find them without it. I finished the game with 0

      The cluebook for Ultima Underworld II says:
      The skill system in Underworld is based on a 0 to 30 range for skill values. Attempts to use a non-combat skill have certain probabilities of success, and every point you have in the relevant skill adds one chance in 30 to this probability. The base difficulty might vary from task to task' each locked door has its own difficulty of picking, each type of creature has a certain chance to be detected by track skill, and so forth; but it is generally the case that 1 point of skill adds 1 chance in 30 to your chance of success.

      So from these sources my understanding is that when looking (right-clicking) on a secret door (which the player noticed himself due to the skewed texture on the wall), there's a certain likelihood that the character sees the secret door and opens it. The higher the search skill, the higher the likelihood that it works on the first try; but if the character has a low search skill value and it doesn't work on the first try, the player merely has to click a couple more times until the invisible dice rolls meet the low likelihood of success. Some secret doors have higher default likelihoods, some have lower - but all can be noticed by the player due to the skewed textures and all can be opened by the character with a skill level of 0.

      If that's true then it's a bit disappointing. But what would be a good way to design the search skill for a game like this?

    4. It turns out that some secret doors do not have visible skewed textures at first. For example, with my character that has a search skill level of 5, in the bandit's eastern storeroom on level 3, I have to search a normal-looking wall, after which the normal texture gets replaced with the secret door. A second action opens it.

      I wonder whether this wall already shows the secret door from the start if the character's search skill is high enough. In that case that skill absolutely makes sense.

    5. I finished the game without realising there was a way into the cemetery other than the Bullfrog puzzle. There's an obvious place for it on the map but I had a look at the walls and didn't find it so assumed there was a landslide or similar, like the Grand Staircase. Up to this point any secret doors were revealed after looking at the wall once. However I had no points in Search, so possibly this is somewhere where not having that skill made a difference? It's also possible my in-real-life "Click on a specific area" skill, which approximates that of a bag of drunken lemurs, may have been a factor here.

  9. Zanium:
    Lbh pbhyq tvir gur uhtr tbyq ahttrg gb Tbyqguvefg naq ur jbhyq tvir lbh jung V oryvrir gur orfg nkr va tnzr.

    Did you upset a spectre named Warren? :)

    1. Ah. Well, if "gur orfg nkr va tnzr" weighs more than 1 pound, I'll stick with what I have. Plus, I stopped building my skills on the nkr.

  10. The only issue with the "coin of justice" is that it could also be interpreted as a tossed coin, i.e. randomly favoring one side or the other, which seems like a more sardonic comment on justice than this world intends. Probably the reason the scales are the traditional symbol, though the image of a dungeon-crawling hero stopping to use a set of scales in combat is a bit odd.

    1. The first thing that comes to my mind when 'coin' and 'justice' are put in the same sentence is Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two-Face. :)

      The Scales of Justice could be a fun item in a game where trade/bartering was more prominent, allowing you to appraise items or something like that...

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Should probably put this one into Rot13, because it is slightly spoilery. However, I consider this the one puzzle in the game where it's extremely hard to find the solution on your own. Concerning the Cup of Wonder: Have you noticed that gur phc vgfrys vf abg haznexrq? Naq qb lbh unir nal zber vaprafr?

  12. Gaining visions from imbibing spirits... sounds Spiritual to me. XD

  13. I'm embarassed to admit it, but I do actually not know how broken swords are reforged in the real world. ;)

    1. My understanding is that they aren’t, essentially. I mean, you can forge-weld a blade back together but at that point you’ve softened the metal, lost the temper, and created a permanent weak point in the blade that’s just going to snap again. With a total failure / full break across the blade, you would need to literally reforge it: heat the whole thing until it softens, work the metal back into an unshaped blank and hammer the sword out from scratch before re-hardening the blade.

    2. I believe the reforging of Narsil to Anduril involved some good ole fashioned Elven magic, fear not about its strength in battle.

    3. Yeah, if it broke, it means it sucks. Easier to try making a better blade than to repair a weapon that had failed before.

    4. Heh, thanks for clearing that up, makes total sense - I THINK I know the basics of how a sword is forged in the first place, and in that context reforging in the fantasy novel sense doesn't seem very reasonable.
      Then again, that's what magic is there for, right?

    5. Here is how a sword could be reforged:

    6. I would forge the whole steel into a new block and forge a new blade of it

    7. It could be a purely symbolic or ceremonial sword.

  14. "These days, it was swarming with headless, skeletons, and giant spiders. Weeds and mushrooms grew in the corners of the formerly-noble corridors, now patrolled by ghosts."

    In terms of immersion, this area struck a huge chord with me when I first played it as a kid. I used to let my imagination run wild with how this place must have looked in all its original glory, to understand what it symbolized and what it meant to the people trying to uphold these virtuous ideals (even though, yeah, there was a lot of foolish shortsightedness about the whole endeavor). And to then contrast that with the current state of its decay was a powerful statement for me.

    "Oddly, the whole "bullfrog" puzzle from Level 4 was dedicated to finding a back stairway down to this area, but you can reach it without having to solve that puzzle via an obvious secret door."

    I've always held that as a point in the game's favor. The bullfrog puzzle is a memorable part because it asked players to think in ways they normally wouldn't back in 1992. It altered perspective, yet it's also optional. People who couldn't get past it could still complete the game. If only more of its puzzles offered that level of versatility, which I'll address in a moment.

    "As far as the Cup of Wonder, I have a couple of clues but no idea what to do with them."

    Actually, you do. And I'm not even going to add anything, merely restate the clues you already found and already know. But I will use ROT13 anyway 'cause spoilers. Consider:
    - Sletra gnhtug lbh ubj gb hfr vaprafr naq unir ivfvbaf.
    - Ol oheavat vaprafr naq npgvingvat vg, lbh unq n ivfvba bs gur Phc bs Jbaqre. Lbh pna frr irel pyrneyl va lbhe fperrafubg gung gurer'f n jbeq ba gur phc.
    - Lbh pna nyfb pyrneyl frr gung gur phc'f sybngvat bhg va gur zvqqyr bs abjurer.
    - Ybhiaba gbyq lbh gung gurer ner ybfg znagenf juvpu pna qryvire vgrzf be vasbezngvba jura hfrq ng fuevarf.
    - Ybhiaba nyfb gbyq lbh gung bar cbjreshy znagen jnf "qvivqrq vagb guerr cnegf."
    - Rlrfanpx gur tubhy gnhtug lbh Zneqva'f Fbat bs Jbaqre ba gur syhgr naq fnvq gung vs lbh cynl vg va gur evtug cynpr, jbaqebhf guvatf pna unccra.

    Tvira guvf vasb gung'f nyernql ninvynoyr, lbh pna cvrpr gbtrgure jung lbh arrq gb qb, naq lbh xvaqn xabj jurer. Ohg abg _fcrpvsvpnyyl_ jurer, yvxr lbh fnvq. Naq V qba'g oryvrir lbh'er rire gbyq, juvpu gb zr vf onq tnzr qrfvta. V fbyirq vg ol hfvat n ohyy zragnyvgl hagvy V tbg gur erfhyg V jnagrq.

    "I don't have space for a huge gold nugget and don't know what I need it for anyway."

    It's not essential to beat the game but if you're curious ask yourself, is there anyone in the abyss that would love a huge gold nugget?

    "I am heartily sick of being poisoned."

    I didn't roleplay as a Tinker any of the times I played this game (Druid or Fighter for me). Do you not have enough mana to cast higher level spells? Because you're leveled enough for the fifth circle, and you have all the runes necessary to fix this annoyance.

    "Frankly, the most baffling skill to me is "Traps." Is there a single trap in the game?"

    Yes, but nothing so critically dangerous that I ever felt a need to invest in this skill. I found it to be pretty useless on the whole, personally.

    "Still having a great time."

    Awesome to hear! I'm still enjoying these posts, especially on the games I know nothing about (which is plenty). Thanks for all your work on this blog.

    1. I'm not going to read the ROT13 yet, but thanks for the hints.

      I wrote that bit about poison before finding the "Nox" rune.

      I agree on the evocative nature of the level. That's why I tried to describe it in such terms. I love that this is just going to get better as graphics get better.

  15. You see a sturdy door indeed. *Looks at (semitransparent) ghost*

  16. Level 5 is also home to a non-hostile spectre. His name is Warren.

    1. I think I probably killed him without noticing he was non-hostile.

  17. "In a world of undead, why isn't everyone just cremated?"

    Fucking hell. Now I'm thinking about it.

    1. Maybe because they'd come back as wraiths and spectres? You'd much rather have to deal with skeletons and zombies.

    2. Maybe because the Necromancer's Union would sue you into oblivion.

  18. So all ghouls are apparently named [Body Part][Action done with the mouth]?


    There is absolutely nothing juvenile that can be made out of that.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. My first thought about the Wine of Compassion was that it was a reference to the story of the Good Samaritan, who found an injured man in need and used wine to cleanse his wounds.

    I like that interpretation better than the idea that it references somebody 'whining' for you to compassionately help them. :)

  20. So is the message that says "Underworld internal error--problems in object list" the one that eventually makes the game unplayable, with no way to recover from?

    1. I never got that message - mine just eventually locked up when trying to save or change levels, after various weird stuff happening. However I would definitely be careful about continuing if you're getting that error. You might be able to see evidence of the bug in your inventory somewhere, and if you have a save before that starts happening you may be OK.

  21. Addict: "Frankly, the most baffling skill to me is "Traps." Is there a single trap in the game?"

    According to the notes I took when I originally beat UUW as a kid, Traps is worse than useless: there is only one disarmable trap in the whole game, located in the room where you find the VAS rune, and that trap is a teleport trap that is meant to be your exit from the room! If you disarm that trap, you have actually trapped yourself inside it.

    1. I actually just found one for the first time in a treasure room, but oddly I was able to disarm it without having put any points into the skill.

  22. Well that's one mystery solved. I had no idea what good the dragon scales were. Didn't even consider there were enough scales to fashion something from them. I figured that ghoul would just repair leather equipment.

  23. Npghnyyl, "Though it doesn't say so anywhere, Caliburn is clearly supposed to be associated with justice." is belied by your very screenshot saying "You see the Sword of Justice."


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