Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Black Gate Bonus: The Books of Britannia

One of many in-game books that make in-jokes and build lore.
I'd have to look through my notes to see what game first offered full-text books--not as plot devices but just as random background flavor and world-building. It might have been Ultima VI. But even if they appeared in earlier games, Ultima VII is the first game to treat them this extensively, with at least a couple of dozen different titles found on desks, nightstands, and bookcases throughout the homes and workplaces of the Britannian people. The castle alone had more than 15 different books.
Ultima VII admittedly doesn't do as well with its books as many later titles. Many of them are goofy, or simply analogues of real-world titles, and not the world-building tomes that we find in, say, The Elder Scrolls series, the Infinity Engine games, or The Witcher series. Still, they're fun and deserve some additional attention and analysis.

I thought I'd use this entry to organize that analysis, adding new books as I find them. I'm excluding some "plot" books that don't have much text (like Morfin's register of venom sales). I'll add notes to future entries when this one has been updated. The books I've found so far are:
The Accedens of Armoury by Legh. A book on heraldry and creating a heraldic symbol. 

And Then There Was Karen by B. MacDae. A tale of a complex relationship.
The Apothecary's Desk Reference by Fetoau. A book that accurately describes which potions have which effects. Very useful.

The Art of the Field Dressing by Creston, "with a forward [sic] by Lady Leigh." It has some advice about cutting cloth into strips to bandage wounds, something that actually works in the game. While Lady Leigh is later found in the game, I don't believe Creston is.

Artifacts of Darkness by Mordra Morgaelin. A handwritten book that makes brief references to powerful artifacts, both current and past. These include the skull of Mondain (destroyed by the Avatar in Ultima IV), the Gem of Immortality (likewise, but the shards created the Shadowlords in Ultima V), Minax's crystal ring (?), the Dark Core of Exodus, the Crown of the Liche King, the Well of Souls, and a blackrock sword. It ends with a joke about the metal plate in Lord British's castle that can immediately kill him. Mordra's ghost can be found in Skara Brae.

A Baker's Handbook by Settlar. A reasonably accurate description of baking bread in the game. 

The Bioparaphysics of the Healing Arts by Lady Leigh. The bible for in-game healers. I believe Lady Leigh will be found later in Serpent's Hold.

Birds of Britannia by Brother Wayne. An illustrated guide to birds of the land, a clear analogue to Birds of North America. Brother Wayne is found in-game in the Dungeon Despise, having gotten lost on a birding expedition.

Black Moon, Red Day by Euralyn. A sequel to Thirteen Months in a Year, set on Corellethra. Shifting celestial bodies cause huge changes in the land, but sorcerers prevent the end of the world.

The Blacksmith's Handbook by Christopher. A book on etal-working written by the man whose homicide touched off the game.

Blade of the Gryphon Barony by Pebrogdy. A novel "about a knight's fight against the doctrines of his society to win the love of a common maiden."

Bloodied Blades and Buxom Beauties by A. G. Fishmor. A bio of a pirate named Roguerre "as he sails the northeast sea." He comes in the clutches of a despotic island ruler from whom he must escape and save a princess. That doesn't seem to be describing anything on Britannia.

The Book of Circles, translated from Gargish to Britannian by Jillian. Describes the eight gargoyle virtues and how they arrange from the three principles of virtue: control, passion, and diligence.

The Book of Forgotten Mantras. A list of about 40 single syllables that apparently used to be mantras to something. There was a similar book in Ultima VI, but I don't think the list is exactly the same, as I seem to remember the gargoyle mantras were in the VI version and they're not in this one. The list includes such unlikely mantras as MEOW, SPANK, GOO, YAM, and BLAH.

Book of Prophecy by Naxatilas the Seer. This book, found on Terfin, is imported from Ultima VI. It describes the apocalypse of the gargoyles, preceded by the arrival of a "false prophet" from another world. In the gargoyles' interpretation of events, the Avatar is the "false prophet." The book ends with the statement that only "the sacrifice of the false prophet" could forestall the prophecy. In Ultima VI, the gargoyles come to interpret this as the Avatar making a sacrifice, not being sacrificed. But since their world is destroyed anyway, perhaps they were wrong and a literal sacrifice would have worked.

The Book of the Fellowship by Batlin of Britain. The first page of the game manual--the one time it makes sense for a real-life book to appear in the game.

Brommer's Britannia by Brommer. The book only has a short paragraph but then it automatically opens to a map of the land. Useful if you lost your regular one, I suppose. The author is a play on the Arthur Frommer travel guidebook series begun in 1957.
That's pretty cool.

Brommer's Fauna by Brommer. Describes only the deer and chicken in the readable parts.

Brommer's Flora by Brommer. Semi-useful in that it talks about the reaper, which looks like a dead tree. 

The Carver Chronicles by Morfin. a guide to butchering written by the butcher in Paws (an NPC whom you can find).
Chicken Raising by Daheness Gon. A relatively useless instruction manual for raising chickens and producing eggs. The anatomical advice seems accurate, but I'm not sure how it helps in-game. Found on the shelf of a farmhouse, which makes sense.

Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang by Ian Fleming. The real-life 1964 book by the author better known for creating James Bond. Lead Ultima VII writer Raymond Benson later went on to become the official James Bond writer from 1997-2002.
With a couple of syllabic substitutions, this could easily have been a James Bond title.

Codavar by Nexa. A novel about a usurper king clearly inspired by Blackthorn and the events of Ultima V. "Codavar" sounds like it's some play on "avatar," but I can't work out what it means.
Collected Plays by Raymundo. An anthology of plays by the guy who runs the theater in Britain. Play titles include Three on a Codpiece, The Trials of the Avatar, The Plagiarist, Clue, and Thumbs Down. "Raymundo" is the in-game avatar of lead writer Raymond Benson, and at least three of these plays are real plays written by Benson. Clue is a 1977 musical based on the board game--a full 8 years before the Tim Curry film. The Plagiarist and Thumbs Down are more obscure; I'm not sure when or if they were ever staged, but they were published as short stories by Amazon Shorts in 2006. Three on a Codpiece is described in-game as a performance art piece in which audience members "tear an undergarment into tiny pieces, after which they are placed in funeral urns and mixed with wheat paste . . . then the audience may glue the pieces anywhere on [the actor's] body that they wish." One Ultima site suggests this might be a reference to Yoko Ono's Cut Piece (1965).

A Complete Guide to Britannian Minerals, Precious, and Semi-Precious Stones by B. Ledbetter. The book discusses some of Britannia's natural resources, including veins of gold and lead. It is notable for a paragraph on blackrock, a "recently discovered" substance with little practical use, rumored to have a "profound effect" on magic. This will of course become a major part of the game's plot. I don't believe Ledbetter appears in-game. I thought it would be funny if it was the guy who runs the jewelry shop in Britain, but his name is Sean.

The Complete History of the Lute by Devonaillion, with foreword by the Master Bard, Iolo. The part that you can read contains only Iolo's foreword, which gives his last name as Arbalest despite "FitzOwen" being his more commonly-given last name. As an "arbelest" is a type of crossbow, perhaps "Arbalest" is meant more as a title than a name.

Converting Moongates to Thine Own Use by Erethian. Written by the NPC in Forge of Virtue, this book establishes (I believe for the first time) what the colors of moongates mean canonically: blue for travel within the same world; red for travel between worlds; black for travel between dimensions; silver for travel through time.
The Dark Core of Exodus by Erethian. A book that claims Exodus was a hybrid between an organic being and a computer. The "Dark Core" was the database accessed by the computer side of Exodus. The book plausibly deals with some of the retcons since Ultima III and sets up the narrative for the Forge of Virtue expansion to The Black Gate. Erethian is an NPC encountered by the party on the Isle of Fire.

The Day It Didn't Work by R. Allen G. A collection of essays about "overseeing a group of well-meaning misfits in a mechanical environment." An obvious joke about Richard Allen Garriott and the staff at ORIGIN.

Dolphin in the Dunes by Pietre Hueman. An allegory for human familial relationships that looks at issues from multiple perspectives. I imagine this is making a joke about a real-world book, but I can't place it.

The Dragon Compendium by Perrin. This is a longer book, useful to the player, describing dragons living in the dungeon Destard. In addition to fire breath and claws, they apparently can make themselves invisible. Perrin appears in the game at Empath Abbey. He's a scholar of eclectic pursuits who has also written several other books, including The Hundred and Eleven Year, Three-Month, Seven-Day War and The Write Stuff.

Enchanting Items for Household Use by Nicodemus. A magic treatise that starts out strong with suggestions for "Self-Propelled Broom" and "Alarm Gem" descends into madness as Nicodemus does, ending with "Exploding Corncob Holder" and "Comb of Many Blades."

Encyclopedia Britannia. Four volumes, all described in summary form with no articles, so you just get allusions like Aakara, the first mayor of Trinsic; an ancient sage of reptiles called Faalga; a mythological snowbeast called the Quaaxetlornicom; and an ancient island called Zyand.

Ethical Hedonism by R. Allen G. Described as a "handbook [that] details a non-religious religion in which people live for the joy of living and make it their responsibility to keep the entire world out of disrepair." "R. Allen G." is of course Richard Allen Garriott, and I'm guessing there's some kind of in-joke here.
Everything an Avatar Should Know about Sex. This book is blank after the title page. Ho-ho-ho. Or maybe it's not a joke and it's foreshadowing the upcoming unicorn encounter.

The Five Stages of Lawn Care by A. P. Berk. A coming of age story about two boys. Sequel: The Winning Number.

Follow the Stars by Laurnen. Supposedly a guide for navigation.

The Forest of Yew by Taylor. A description of the great forest in northwestern Britannia, including a hint about the Emps who live there--a useful in-game clue.

Gargoyle Like Me by Darok. A nonfiction work about a human who poses as a gargoyle to see gargoyle society from the inside.It notes that gargoyles are genderless and it also describes the condescension with which the winged gargoyles treat the wingless. There is an obvious connection with the real-world book Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, but in the real-world book, Griffin posed as a black man to record his treatment by white people. In the fictional version, Darok poses as a gargoyle not to record his experiences with human prejudice but to go undercover among gargoyles themselves.

Golems: From Clay to Stone by Castadon. Instructions on how to make stone golems. The book mentions the Stone of Castambre, which plays a role in The Forge of Virtue expansion.

Gone with the Wisp by Margareta Mitchellino. A novel written by a young gypsy woman about the golden age of her people.

A Guide to Childcare for the Rich and Famous by Lady M with love for Samantha Meng Ling. This book alerts the player to the actual in-game uses of dirty diapers (they make almost all enemies flee in horror).

Hero Fertilizer by Werdron. A "warrior's handbook" describing various fighting styles.

The History of Stonegate by Shazle. Describes the in-game castle that was occupied by the Shadowlords in Ultima V and inhabited by a family of cyclopes with a human adopted daughter in Ultima VI. The book says that a colony of wingless gargoyles resided there before they were driven off by Lord Vemelon of Jhelom. His family had it for several generations, but then it was destroyed in a natural disaster. Now a family of trolls and an ancient wizard supposedly occupy the ruins.

Hither Comes the Rain by Perrin. Another Perrin book, this one describes the effects of spring weather on plants and animals.
The Honorable Hound inn register. The guest list for this Trinsic inn has four recent names: Walter of Britain, Jaffe of Yew, Jaana, and Atans of Serpent's Hold. Jaana is of course the Avatar's companion going back to Ultima IV. I don't believe the others are ever seen or heard from in the series.

How the West Was by Yuclydia. A history of Britannia's geography and the organization of virtues. A pun based on the movie (1962) and TV series (1977-1979) How the West Was Won.

How to Conquer the World in Three Easy Steps by Maximillian the Amazingly Mean. The ravings of a "megalomaniac cleric." He plans to acquire VAS CORP ("Mass Kill"), which he thinks will make everyone fear him, and that not even Lord British himself is immune. I'm pretty sure that Lord British survives a VAS CORP (which is a real spell). Lord British doesn't even die from VAS CORP IN BET MANI ("Armageddon"). Also, there are no "clerics" in this setting. As an aside, I wonder if employees of Vascorp Network Solutions know that to a portion of the public, their name means "Mass Death."

Hubert's Hair-Raising Adventure by Bill Peet. A real 1969 children's book by a real author. It tells in rhyme how the proud lion Hubert had his mane scorched in a series of escalating misadventures. We learned about its presence in Britannia in Ultima VI, where Lord British spent every night reading it to Sherry the Mouse. I don't know which idea is worse: that the adolescent Lord British was carrying the book while hiking through the English countryside, or that he later went back for it.
It's good that Lord British has priorities.

The Hundred and Eleven Year, Three-Month, Seven-Day War by Perrin. A fictional work that describes a bloody civil war in Britannia. "The parable is designed to strike home the advantages [of] remaining unified under the rule of Lord British." Perrin appears in the game at Empath Abbey. He's a scholar of eclectic pursuits who has also written several other books, including The Write Stuff.

I Am not a Dragon by Thompson. "A bawdy tale of Belnorth, fictional lord of Serpent's Hold . . . part one of a trilogy involving the humorous exploits of the lord and his fellow knights."

The Intrinsic Complexities of Investigating a New Species of Flora in the Land of Britannia by Perrin. A journal about the study of plant life. Perrin appears in the game at Empath Abbey. He's a scholar of eclectic pursuits who has also written several other books, including The Hundred and Eleven Year, Three-Month, Seven-Day War and The Dragon Compendium.
Jesse's Book of Performance Art by Jesse. A "controversial and eccentric Britannian actor" who has published a book of "scripts" for performance artists and argues that performance art is basically the same thing as acting. Jesse is an NPC in Britain who jokes about playing the Avatar and having only three lines: NAME, JOB, and BYE.
Karenna's Pregnancy Workout by Karenna. She's got quite a media empire.

Karenna's Total Body Workout by Karenna. An exercise training program. Karenna is an NPC in Minoc who trains characters in dexterity and combat.

Karenna's Workout by Karenna. An exercise training program. Karenna is an NPC in Minoc who trains characters in dexterity and combat.

Key to the Black Gate. A cluebook to the game, found within the game (but without any of the actual text). Probably meant as a subtle in-game advertisement. Can you imagine needing a cluebook to solve this game?
A crummy commercial?!

The Knight and the Thief by Hobbs. A novel about a "heroic warrior suffering from delusions of an alternate life as a rogue and cutpurse."
Landships by Equinestra. A semi-useful manual that describes the different ways to get around Britannia, including horses, carts, and the famed magic carpet.

Landships of War by Equinestra. "An illustrated guide to jousting and barding." It suggests a tactic that you can use in-game: fire missiles at enemies from atop carts (or the magic carpet).

The Light until Dawn by Drennal. A book about Britannia's two moons, Trammel and Felucca, and the possibility of people living on them. These moons have been around since Ultima IV, and their phases control the moongates.

Lord British: The Biography of Britannia's Longtime Ruler by K. Bannos. The biography frankly acknowledges that Lord British is from another world. I wasn't sure that was public knowledge until now. He entered Britannia through a moongate and became one of the rulers of the eight kingdoms of Sosaria. The people proclaimed him the king after he successfully dealt with Mondain, Minax, and Exodus. The book recounts his role in Ultima IV and Ultima V but ends just as the gargoyles become a threat in Ultima VI. Unfortunately, the text also re-affirms the idea that the Avatar is the same hero as the one who defeated Mondain, Minax, and Exodus--the dumbest retcon ORIGIN ever introduced.
Part of Lord British's bio. A party of Fuzzies defeated Exodus and nobody can convince me otherwise.

Magic and the Art of Horse-and-Wagon Maintenance. A clear joke on Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974). The text makes an in-joke about how horses need no food or rest, which they don't--in the game.

Man Versus Fish: The Ultimate Conflict by Aquastyr. An essay on the glories of fishing.

Mandibles by Peter Munchley. A Britannian version of Jaws; the author's name is play on Peter Benchley.
Mempto Rays: A Qualitative Study in Metaparaphilosophical Radiation by Mempto. Some rantings about Britannia always being bombarded by radiation "lethal to all non-living matter." Probably meant as a send-up of pseudo-science in the modern world.

Milord Conduct by Aleina. A manual for proper behavior around nobles. No Aleina in-game.

Miscellaneous Cantrips. A guide to minor spells. There are no specifics, so not helpful in-game.

Modern Necromancy by Horance. An attempt to redeem necromancy from ages of malignment. Its thesis is only slightly damaged by the fact that Horance (the insane mage who only spoke in rhymes in Ultima VI) and his necromancy destroyed Skara Brae and turned Horance into a lich.

Murder by Mongbat by J. Dial. An "enthralling but too gory thriller" that "describes innovative and impressive ways to disembowel people and animals." 

My Cup Runneth Over by Marseine. A guide for vintners. I don't believe that Marseine appears in the game, but the text suggests she consulted the Brotherhood of the Rose, which runs Empath Abbey.

No One Leaves by R. Allen G. This sequel to The Day It Didn't Work is a humorously-phrased paragraph about missed deadlines and forced overtime.

No Time to Dance by B. A. Morler. "The busy life of two scholars, caught betwixt the demands of a forceful taskmaster and the pressure of time." Probably another in-joke, although I can't find anyone with that author's name among ORIGIN's staff.

No Way to Jump by Desmonth. A treatise on tropes found in adventure stories. This is probably another in-joke about game development. After all, Ultima VII, for all its realism, does not allow the Avatar to jump. The issue continues into the present day and is found on TV Tropes as "The Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence." Note that Ultima VIII does feature jumping and jumping puzzles.

Observations of Black Rock by Rudyom the Mage. The notebook of Cove's eccentric mage, this describes his experiments with an "indestructible" stone that can only be molded and shaped with magic, but ironically makes magic users go mad.

On Acting by Laurence Olivier. Philosophical notes on acting "written by a noted thespian of a distant land." The text notes that it was apparently "one of the many brought to Britannia by Lord British." Why was the kid hiking with half a library on his back? Anyway, Sir Laurence did in fact publish a book of this title in 1986.

The Out-'n-Inn register. This raunchy Cove hotel has lately seen Tyors of Britain, Kellin of Buccaneer's Den, Sir Dupre, Wentok of Trinsic, and Uberak of Minok [sic]. Kellin is a wanted thief whose story will be recounted eventually. None of the other names, save Dupre, are known NPCs.

Outpost by Gasreth. A manual of tactics and strategies for soldiers. Semi-useful in that it encourages the player to check out cannons.

Pathways of Planar Travel by Nicodemus. Formula necessary for traveling between planes. Notes that Lord British comes from another plane. Notes that while so far, every individual entering Britannia from other planes has been benevolent, the possibility remains for a malevolent entity to visit. This naturally foreshadows the Guardian.

Play Directing: Analysis, Communication, and Style by Francis Hodge. A "respected textbook" written by "an eminent professor emeritus from a university in a distant land." It is in fact a real-world book, published in 1971 by a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Probably someone that Raymond Benson or someone on the staff at ORIGIN (which was based in Austin) knew. Hodge passed away in 2008.

The Provisioner's Guide to Useful Equipment by Dell. A semi-useful in-game book detailing the utility of torches, backpacks, and buckets. Dell runs the provisions shop in Trinsic.

Ribald Encounters by Madden. The book is simply described as "many stories full of suggestive prose."

Ringworld by Larry Niven. A fantasy book suggesting other worlds between Britannia and the heavens. This is a real-world book by a real-world author, published in 1970, although its plot is a bit different than described here.

Ritual Magic by Nicodemus. Description of a ritual involving five mages, a pentagram, and the slaughter of animals. Nicodemus is an in-game NPC.

The Salty Dog inn register. This inn and tavern in Paws lists seven recent visitors: Addom of Yew, The Avatar, Jalal of Britain, Tim of Yew, Blorn of Vesper, Sir Dupre, and Penelope of Cove. Addom is a traveling merchant who later shows up in Moonglow and plays a role in that city's plot. To my knowledge, Jalal and Penelope never appear in the game, although I think Jalal appears in another register. Tim of Yew is also an unknown (there was a bard named Tim in Ultima V but he'd be long-dead). Blorn is an anti-Gargish racist who we later find in Vesper. The idea that Dupre recently visited a tavern is entirely within his character. The most disturbing entry is that someone is wandering around passing himself off as "The Avatar."

The Scent of Valor by Wetterson. A treatise on chivalry and duty. Perhaps a reference to Bill Watterson, as a Calvin & Hobbes book appears in Ultima Underworld II, but if so it's rather obscure.

Shoot the Moon by Oswauld. A guidebook on druidic culture.

A Short Treatise on Britannian Society by Clayton. A book that reinforces the idea of a "social order" in Britannian society, one that goes Lord British > Great Council > Winged Gargoyles > Masses of Humanity > Wingless Gargoyles.

The Silence of Chastity by I. M. Munk. A treatise on the Brotherhood of the Rose, which inhabits Empath Abbey. They apparently do not take vows of silence.

Sir Kilroy. A novel about "the rise of a shining white knight, driven to madness by the women in his life."

Spring Planting, Autumn Harvest. Details on agriculture.

Stealing the Wind by Brianna. A discussion of kite-flying.
Stealing the Wind seems to have helped out an NPC, anyway.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Summarized as "the struggles of an individual from another planet who finds difficulty assimilating into his new society and culture." Nelson, head of the Lycaeum, proudly displays a first edition. This is a real-world 1961 book by a real-world author, although in-game it works as a metaphor for the experiences of Lord British or the Avatar.

Struck Commander by Gilberto. A "fanciful story" about a man who gets a "flying vehicle" and uses it to fight terrorists and despotic monarchs. This is an in-joke based on ORIGIN's forthcoming Strike Commander (1993).

The Summer of My Satisfaction by Plexes. A fictional story summarized as "the tale of Good King Kettle, who rules a great land without any troubles." An obvious play on the phrase "the winter of our discontent," which appears in the first line of Shakespeare's Richard III and is almost always misquoted or misunderstood because no one quotes the second half of the line. Look it up. No idea on "Plexes," though.

The Symbology of Runes by Smidgeon the Great. A dictionary of runes, but presented in-game in summarized form, so it's not actually helpful. 

That Beer Needs a Head on It by Yongi. Recipes and serving suggestions for alcoholic beverages. Yongi is an NPC staying at the Gilded Lizard in Vesper.

Thirteen Months in a Year by Euralyn. A novel about a war and a family of magic-users in a fantasy kingdom called Corellethra. Sequel: Black oon, Red Day.

Thou Art What Thee Eats by Fordras. A nutritional analysis that pre-dates the Atkins craze by suggesting meats and vegetables ahead of carbohydrates. The author recommends certain foods in order, and I think it roughly corresponds with how filling those foods are in-game.

Thy Message Received by For-Lem, translated by Jillian. An essay written by a gargoyle to humans, noting the prejudice and hatred by which the gargoyles have been treated, which mystifies them since it was humans who destroyed their land and not the other way around. It expresses hope but pessimism. For-Lem is a wingless gargoyle found in Vesper, while Jillian is a scholar at the Lycaeum. It feels like this could be based on a real book, but I can't think of one.

To Be or not to Be by Wislem. A primer on the gargish language, the joke being that gargoyles speak entirely in infinitives ("to welcome you, Avatar!"). Wislem is an advisor of Lord British and is found at the castle.

To the Death! by Zaksam. A manual on the fighting styles of Britannia. Zaksam is an NPC in Vesper, a combat trainer who believes war with the gargoyles is inevitable.

The Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. This is a real book by a real author, originally published in 1984. As best I can tell, it's a real book about English grammar and syntax, but all the examples are vampire-themed and there are vampire illustrations. If there's something deeper going on, someone's going to have to tell me. I suppose if it actually gets people to read a book on grammar, there are no bad ideas.
Go figure.
Tren I, II, III, IV . . . XVII. An autobiography by "the obtuse mage" which "reveals Tren's life in all of his incarnations as he continually strove to possess more powerful beings." As far as I know, we never meet a mage called Tren, nor do we ever see an application of magic that involves possession of beings.

The Trio by Leepeartson. A collection of songs "for a variety of stringed and percussion instruments" by three master bards. Maybe a reference to Trio, a 1987 Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt album: "Leepeartson" is plausibly a play on "Dolly Parton." [Edit: a commenter's opinion that this could represent a reference to Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, and Alex Lifeson of the band Rush is more persuasive.]

Two in the Fold by Morian. A novel about two thieves from Britain who infiltrate the royal castle.

Ultima: The Avatar Adventures by Rusel DeMaria and Caroline Spector. An account of the Avatar's exploits after Ultima III.  This is a real-life strategy guide for Ultima IV, V and VI, presented as a novelization. The in-game version is deemed by the Avatar to be "amazingly accurate."
Up Is Out by Goodefellow. A treatise on gravity and mass, including "falling apples." It's a clear analogue to Isaac Newton, but I otherwise don't know if the title and author are a reference to anything. If Goodefellow is an actual Britannian trying to research physics, his life is going to be rough.

Vargaz's Stories of Legend. This anonymous book is subtitled Reasons Why One Should Never Build Doors Facing North or West. The book has two stories, one about a plague of locusts foretold by Father Antos (Ultima II and IV) which destroyed houses with north-facing doors. The other tale suggests that monsters fleeing sunlight are more likely to flee east and thus invade houses with west-facing doors.

The Way of the Swallow by Foiles. Summarized as the story of a mother deeply loved by her family. It ends with her death. I don't know if this is making any kind of reference or not.

The Wayfarer's Inn register. This tavern in Britain lists five recent guests: John-Paul of Serpent's Hold, Horffe of Serpent's Hold, Featherbank of Moonglow, Tarvis of Buccaneer's Den, and Shamino. I later found Shamino shacking up with an actress, so he probably only had to stay for one night. I don't believe Tarvis or Featherbank appear in the game, but John-Paul is in fact the ruler of Serpent's Hold and Horffe is his Gargish captain of the guard.

What a Fool Believes by P. Nolan. The book only has a brief paragraph, describing it as "the story of a bard, a blonde, and a bottle . . . a classic tale of the war between the sexes." There's a song of this name, of course, recorded by the Doobie Brothers and Aretha Franklin among others, but it doesn't mention a blonde or a bottle and has no association with anyone named "Nolan" (although, in a weird twist, the R&B artist Nolan Porter did cover the song, but not until 2011).

What Color is Thy Blade? by Menion. Written by the weaponsmith in Serpent's Hold, this book describes how to forge a blade. Possibly-useful during the Forge of Virtue expansion.

What Could Be Left but the Ashes by N. Flaims. Essays about volcanic eruptions. (The author's name is a pun: "in flames.") One story is "told by Fendora, a young woman from Minoc, who claims to have experienced a volcanic eruption near every one of the five towns in which she has lived." That's not surprising given how often the landscape of this world is re-made by volcanoes and earthquakes. 

When Starts the Adventure by Sabra. The story of a warrior who, in the process of adventuring, notices that the land is balanced in good and evil.

White Rain by Perrin. Another Perrin book, this one describes the effects of winter weather on plants.

Why Good Mages Like Black Magic by Magus. An argument for "applying magic for the benefit of society as opposed to selfish, personal gain." I'm not sure if it's making any real-world reference.

The Winning Number by A. P. Berk. A sequel to The Five Stages of Lawn Care visits the boys 10 years later.

The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum. The real book from the real world, except that in the real world, the author is L. Frank Baum. It is given a quick summary in-game. I assume it's in Lord British's castle because I stole it for him as part of an Ultima VI side-quest.

The Write Stuff by Perrin. A treatise on the importance of literacy and what makes for good literature. Perrin appears in the game at Empath Abbey. He's a scholar of eclectic pursuits who has also written several other books, including The Hundred and Eleven Year, Three-Month, Seven-Day War and The Dragon Compendium.


  1. Here's a link to all Ultima vii books and their text:

    1. I guess we'll see if I find all of them before the end. I won't be using that page, though.

  2. I have to confess, I don't read books in the majority of games that feature them.

    Morrowind's use of books was exceptional. Nobody can make up their minds about what happened on Red Mountain--go read the histories written by the various factions for additional insight. Don't understand ALMSIVI or the Imperial Cult? An NPC will give you some reading material. Vivec gives you a lot of information in book form and invites you to read a bunch of rare scrolls from his personal library. Reading isn't just a tool for dispensing "lore," it's a tool that intelligent players use to solve the game.

    By contrast, Skyrim's plot is little more complicated than it appears on the surface. Dragons are doing bad stuff, go kill dragons. To make up for this shallow uncomplicated plot, they fill the world with a bunch of meaningless books--many of which are copied from other titles. Never mind that all the characters are boring one-note archetypes with no depth or personality, all those books scattered around mean that it has good "lore."

    It's a very tiring trope and one of my pet peeves with recent games. Ultima VII gets a pass because, as with Morrowind, the main story is actually interesting and many of the books deliver key information. However, it is extremely common that a game with dull characters and a sophomoric plot you've seen gazillions of times before will get heaps of praise because it has good "lore" delivered in the form of text files and audio logs.

    1. As with many things when it comes to many people and Skyrim (and Fallout 4), I think you're confusing "not the best ever" with "bad." Sure, Morrowind did it best, but I'll take what Skyrim offers over the average RPG any day.

    2. Don't get me wrong, I like Skyrim. I just don't think the inclusion of books in Skyrim was thought out more deeply than "It's an Elder Scrolls game, those have books in them."

      While others have problems with Fallout 4's writing, I wouldn't even put Skyrim in the same weight class as FO4. I would take Nick Valentine over Delphine and Esbern any day of the year, not even a contest.

    3. The things Skyrim did well are pretty much just remnants of earlier Elder Scrolls games. Most of the books already existed in Morrowind, some even in Daggerfall. A lot of Morrowind's were specifically written to illustrate its setting. There were the famous 36 Sermons of Vivec which are esoteric and incomprehensible, there was even a rare book banned by the Temple you had to hunt down a copy of during the main quest. Where is Skyrim's equivalent of that? They could easily have written a Stormcloak propaganda book penned by Ulfric himself, but there are no books in Skyrim that tie as directly into the story you're experiencing as those in Morrowind did.

    4. TO be fair, Ulfric doesn't really seem like the type to sit down and pen a book about his beliefs. A more likely move would be to commission a bunch of traveling bards to sing about it (and maybe it'd give us some more interesting tavern music after the 3rd rendition of "Ragnar the Red"?)

    5. To be fair, there exists an anti-Ulfric Stormcloak propaganda book there. And yes, most of the newly added books in TES5 are tangential to the plot, starting with the "Book of Dragonborn" in plain sight in the tutorial dungeon, or related to the Skyrim province setting, all those guides book come to mind, but there's more.

      One-of-a-kind is the book "Kolb and a Dragon", which is a short cyoa gamebook. This goes along with the original Ultimian-TESian spirit of filling the world with short pastiches of a variety of literary genres, in the role of a background rather than plot devices.

      Then you play a particular quest from a particular mod and admire some really creative use of books in those games...

  3. Well, the dietary advice of more meat and veggies and less carbs is a very good one. Ultima VII was ahead of its time when it comes to nutrition!

    1. The caloric content of veggies is carbs.

    2. Caloric content has to be either fat, sugar or carb.

      Off course the same amount of veggies usually have more other content and fiber of a food made mainly of flour.

      Here is sometimes an heirloom cereal grown as tradition which should have more vitamins and minerals but a really bad yield compared to wheat, but I don't know if it really make such a different.

    3. Sugar is a carbohydrate.

    4. Everyone knew what I and JarlFrank were saying. Stop being pedantic.

  4. "This anonymous book is subtitled Reasons Why One Should Never Build Doors Facing North or West."

    It's also worth mentioning that this is a explanation/joke about how, due to the game's isometric viewpoint, you can't see doors on the north and west side of buildings from outside, therefore buildings in U7 are rarely designed with them placed there.

    1. That obvious allusion totally went over my head. Thanks.

  5. I've yet to find a game where the in-game books were reliably entertaining to read, rather than feeling like the appendices of the Silmarillion.

    Ultima VII's at least had the virtue of being occasionally funny - I still love the book about why you can't build doors to the north or west - and having an in-canon reason for occasionaly pop culture references. No slight to anyone who enjoys the Elder Scrolls in-game books - you're allowed to love what you love - but to me they were consistently tedious and self-indulgent. Quality of writing is not among the virtues of that franchise.

    1. Some of Morrowind's books were delightfully esoteric. And then there's The Lusty Argonian Maid, of course.

    2. Morrowind has some of the best writing in videogames. However, Ultima VII's books had the advantage of being short.

    3. I spent MONTHS playing Daggerfall. I had no access to a patch that would fix the bug that prevents you from completing the main quest and I didn't notice.
      I was just there to collect as many of the books as I could, and scam the little kingdom's banks on loans.

  6. "No Way to Jump", wow they really made up for that lack in U8, didn't they?

    1. The proper name of that game is Super Avatar Bros :p

    2. Hopefully the Addict will play the patched version. That game is frustrating enough without having to deal with isometric jumping shenanigans.

    3. I think you can only get the patched version these days most places online, like GOG.

      I have the unpatched version on 3.5" disks somewhere, if he was really keen for the torment of the original design.

  7. So, did they get the rights to those books or are they more of a joke thing where they just have the title there and nothing inside? The Oz book was public domain at the time, and kinda fits as a gag, but Chitty Chitty Bang Bang seems too expensive and random for a gag.

    1. It's just the title and a brief description, it would be well within Fair Use.

  8. The official hint book may be unnecessary but it's a lovely little artifact written as an in-lore text like the manual. Check it out when you're done!

    1. I was going to come post something like this. I still have my copy of the hint book, and I am sure I bought it just because I wanted everything Ultima-related I could easily access as a teenager pre-internet.

      Looking through it, half the book is basically useless as a hint book, but is potentially interesting from a lore perspective. Every single city/town has a half-page to full-page description of the area written by one of the residents. They are written in a way to give you bread crumbs to the various side quests (and probably the main quest as well). Each dungeon has a map, which is mostly not needed except they made sure to detail the few lever and teleportation puzzles. The final dungeon in particular always gave me trouble although I think it was more due to a bug than not solving a puzzle.

      I have hint books for Martian Dreams and Serpent Isle as well. Unlike the Addict I really loved Martian Dreams and I am pretty sure I only picked it up to have something to look at when my parents made me turn off the computer. That one is written as "The Lost Notebooks of Nellie Bly". And of course the Serpent Isle one is "written by" one of those time monks that are in that game.

  9. It always rankles me to see stuff like Thou Art What Thee Eats rather than ... What Thou Eatest. If they're going out of their way to drag in archaic grammar, they could try to get it right.

    1. You can probably chalk that up to the kid Lord British introducing archaic language when he first arrived, but not having a clue how it actually worked.

    2. Always wondered if there are non-english games out there similarly saddled with twee outdated versions of their respective tongues.

    3. In German this "ye oulde" way of speaking isn't common in fantasy. The most faux-old thing we get is reenactors on medieval fairs using archaic words, but that habit never made it into fantasy.

      Funniest one I encountered was when I bought some trinkets st a medieval fair and the vendor asked "Begehret Ihr eine Tüte, mein Herr?"

    4. To quote a blog entry I found after googling: "The singular subject form is thou and the singular object form is thee. For example, the opening lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:

      Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
      Thou art more lovely and more temperate."

  10. Most of the books in the Black Gate just give you a summary of the book, which is weird when the interface makes it look like it's actual physical text you read in the book instead of an adventure game style object description. It seems the developers noticed this and from Serpent Isle onward you only see verbatim text you'd actually read in a book.

  11. Regarding that clue book, the titular 'black gate' is a MOONgate and doesn't use keys. That's a pretty clueless clue book, then.

  12. I wish game developers still had a sense of humor these days. I've always been frustrated with the books in Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale for the same reasons GregT states above. U7 poking fun at Origin and Garriot enhances immersion for me because I actually want to read these books. I love BG but the "lore" is painfully cliche.

    1. These days? Those games are 20 years old :p

    2. Of course the lore is boring! It's Forgotten Realms lore - doh ho ho ho!

    3. In U8 there's a book called "Eye of the Boulder" that's a rather cruel take down of the "Eye of the Beholder" series, particularly the way everything is on a square grid. SSI would get back at them later in the second Darksun game with "Penultimate Adventure" a savage takedown of U8s very real problems.

    4. Yeah, people in glass houses... I wonder if that means they didn't realize they had a dud at the time...

  13. I used to feel obliged to read books and other such lore peripheral to the main quests.

    But I no longer care. For me the expected value of a minute of lore is pretty low, particularly as it interrupts the flow of the game.

    1. FNV: honest hearts and dead state are a couple exceptions.

    2. I never read them much, only when the title seemed interesting or it had ties to the quests I was doing. Even in Morrowind, where I love the presence of in-game books, I maybe read about 10% of them. Still, their presence adds to the immersion and believability of the game world, even if you never read them.

    3. Yeah but the way games force you to swallow a expository torrent via books, logs or other dubiously written pieces is something I can usually live without. Personally.

    4. Do they force you though? As I said, in Morrowind I appreciated the presence of books but could perfectly play the game without reading most of them. In Skyrim it's even easier to ignore them since most don't even reference the current province you're in.

      Exposition in dialogue is worse, because there it's harder to avoid and usually gets forced down your throat. If most of the lore is kept in books, you don't have to read it.

    5. You are not forced, but the only way to get to understand the world building is to go through those never ending pages of really badly written prose. Oh, just like most of SF or fantasy!

    6. If I don't want to hear the tavern wench's sob story from the proverbial Horse's Mouth, then I definitely don't want to pore over third-tier content added for bulk.

  14. I would not see that much as a retconning than just an unreliable narrator or an in game nod on how history books can rewrite history.

    "What a fool believes" is one of my favourite songs. The Doobie Brothers original is great, but I prefer the Self cover.

    1. I was ready to completely disagree with you there, but fair play, that Self cover is absolutely fantastic.

  15. New headcanon: what if the hero from Ultima 1-3 was NOT the Avatar, but people in Britannia THINK he is? It is a real-world phenomenon that people 'combine' myths, ascribing unrelated deeds to their favorite legendary figure, like King Arthur. So yeah, those cataclysmic events that happened hundreds of years ago? TOTALLY stopped by our legendary hero. And he totally delivered dragon eggs to my pirate grandfather, too! Go Avatar!

    1. I wish it could be so, but when you visit the shrines in U6, the game explicitly says things like "You remember as if it were yesterday how you defeated Mondain in your first visit to Britannia." Also, in this game, LB refers to the Avatar's role in defeating Exodus.

  16. I think Ultima V's main manual was a history book written from an in-universe perspective, and it had an introduction that described Lord British first coming to Britannia through a moongate and meeting Shamino? Something like that.

    1. Yes.

      Shamino: "What again was the name of thy birthplace?"

      LB: "Cambridge, in the British Isles."

      Shamino: "I like that. I shall call thee British."

      LB: "I have an actual name, jackass."

      Re-reading it, I just realized that the book definitively establishes that 1 Earth Year = 10 Britannian years. So everyone on Britannian from Earth should have aged 20 years between U6 and U7. I don't know.

    2. He should have been Lord Cambridge, then.

    3. wait, so if it's 1:10 then how old would The Avatar be if you're supposed to be the same person from Ultima 1 to U7?

    4. The timeline before U4 is unstated and, for the games involving time travel, irrelevant.

      The Ultima calendar begins in the year Britannia was founded. Ultima 4 takes place between then and BC 60. Ultima 7 takes place in BC 361.

      So, about 33 earth years, then.

    5. Ultima V takes place in the year 139, and Ultima VI is in 161. In the intro to Ultima VI it says "five seasons have passed since your triumphant homecoming from Brittania." So that would be 1.25 years in Earth time takes 22 years in Britannian time. That would be more like 1 Earth year is 17.5 Britannian years.

      But like many things with the series, they were making it up as they went along and retconned whenever it suited the current game.

    6. If the avatar is 50, he's a bit old to be rockin that hairdo.

    7. If the avatar is 50, the unicorn virgin scene is even more embarrassing... :p

      But it would explain why he can cast spells!

    8. That would explain the receiting hair line

    9. "He should have been Lord Cambridge, then."

      He is! His full name is Lord Cantabrigian (=of/from/pertaining to Cambridge) British. (I can't remember exactly where in the series this was disclosed, but it was hinted at as early as U3 with the letters "LCB" in the castle fountain.)

    10. @JarlFrank: it's implied that the Avatar's body is basically renewed every time he or she travels to Britannia. That's why you start the game at a low level each time. So basically, it's just that this particular body is virginal.

      @Anonymous: Lord British's first name is revealed to the player in Ultima V, when Chuckles greets the Avatar upon entering Castle Britannia.

  17. Perhaps the Time Lord has shared some regeneration energy with them? Wait... sorry... just jumped imaginary world there...

  18. If a game has books in it, I'll read them. I can't help myself.

    I spend a lot of time in games like Skyrim or Baldur's Gate just collecting, reading and (after I ended up helplessly encumbered) selling books.

    1. Do you enjoy finding a new book, or do you inwardly sigh?

    2. Depends on if I already know it, don't know it at all, or if I happen to carry a dozen versions of the book already. That last one causes me to make the Deepest Sigh (TM)

      Honestly, some books have fun stories I like to read more then once, but there's a certain point where I'm more like "neat, some loot to sellt" and less "neat, a new book to read"

      It's the Boring Book Threshold or BBK.

  19. Is that font maybe 4px? They managed to pack something legible that can present a good quantity of information in the screen at the same time.
    And now I'm googling about the world of tiny font sizes

    1. Why not? Daggerfall uses 5px font as the main font for the most of the game text, as far as I can tell.

    2. It looks like a 2-6 pixel wide proportional font, with a height of 7 pixels, and 4-level anti-aliasing. While most glyphs are only 4 pixels tall, there is a nominal 3 pixel gap below them, and the descenders occupy 2 of the 3 pixels.

      I tried reducing the line spacing to 6 pixels, and it's very legible, but it caused more eyestrain.

    3. Hey! Who here has watched the Helvetica documentary? Anyone?


  20. I had a chapter of my dissertation on the use of books in videogames. I can't remember it all off the top of my head, but there were a few different categories:
    --games that required an external book to play (a Japanese version of Ni No Kuni made the player consult a 'book of magic' that came with the game)
    --games that used books as the framing device (A character is reading from a book, or a book opens, and it's implied that the game is either the story they're telling or the "real" events, like in Final Fantasy Tactics)
    --games that present significant portions of their interface as books (like the original Nier)
    --the book and writing presented in a meta way (Alan Wake)
    --and finally, the case that Addict is covering here, representations of books within the diegetic gameworld.

    It was probably my favorite chapter to write; I got to think a lot about how the concept of books circulates within games.

    1. Just out of curiosity, what was the thesis of your dissertation in general?

  21. Regarding the Wayfarer's Inn register -- you find out in a book at the court in Yew that Tervis is an alias of a wanted thief....

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. The Ringworld novel might have been included because of the similarities between the Kzinti in that novel and the Kilrathi - both are feline aliens with a warlike culture.

    1. Specifically, both aliens are tiger-like, and constantly lose wars against humanity.

      There's another Kilrathi/Ultima connection - I'll rot13 it as it's in Ultima Underworld 2: Gur Gevyxunv, gryrcnguvp pngf gur Ningne rapbhagref va Xvyybea Xrrc, ner cerggl pyrneyl yrff fbcuvfgvpngrq qrfpraqnagf bs gur Xvyenguv, nf gurl'er qrfpevorq nf univat ybfg jnef jvgu uhznavgl naq sbetrggvat nobhg gurve fgnesnevat cnfg.

  24. "Gone with the Wisp by Margareta Mitchellino" is a variant of Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

  25. "Why Good Mages like Black Magic" sounds like the eternal question of 'why good girls like bad guys.'

  26. As I recall, a cook in one of the earlier Ultimas mentions that the "mantra of eating" is YAM.

  27. I think “The Trio by Leepeartson” is referring to Rush - Geddy Lee, Neil Pearl, and Alex Lifeson.

    1. I didn't know those names until now, but I'm persuaded.

    2. Ha! I admit I'm surprised. I thought there was a bigger overlap between people who play RPGs, and people who listen to Rush.

  28. Um, I may be wrong, but "Up is Out" seems to me very much to be an allusion to the book called Flatland.

    It's a book of fiction that illustrated in its narrative the mathematical idea of "dimensions" and "higher-dimensional worlds".

    The book was written from the POV of a 2D geometrical creature living in the 2D world in a society of other 2D geometrical creatures (squares, triangles, spheres...); those creatures had a social hierarchy based on their 2D shapes.

    One day a 3D geometrical creature entered this world - in the mathematical sense it was like a 3D object was sliced by the "plane" that was protagonist's whole world. Because there is a lot of ways to slice one and the same 3D object with a plane, the higher-dimensional guest confused the protagonist at first.

    The higher-dimensional guest managed to both explain and show the protagonist the existence of a fundamentally different dimension; it took a time and a lot of effort to "grok" it, but finally the protagonist understood what "up" means and how it's different from "north". Because, you know, if you look at the usual standard map (which IS a 2d plane), it's "north" is physically up on the paper.

    So, to the end of his days, this guy tried to convince other inhabitants of his world that "Up is not north! It is different, it's UP!"

    It may be a bit of a stretch, but, technically "Up is Out" could mean that the direction "up" from the 2D-represented world we see on the computer monitor is technically "out" of the monitor inside our world; so up IS out and, technically, this experience could be accessible if, Flatland-style, some person from our world could contact the reality depicted on the monitor.
    And who would be better equipped to understand the implications than a (proto)-physicist?

    Of course, it may be that it's only a stretch anyway. In some sense "up is out" even here on the Earth, since technically "up" is "outwards from Earth's central core".


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