Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Black Gate: Gunpowder Treason and Plot

Druxinusom asks me about Inamo. I love that the dialogue options allow you to say that Inamo was murdered or to say something like, "Uh, well, he's not doing so hot."
I suppose it's time for a recap before we move forward. The Avatar hasn't been in Britannia for 200 years in Britannian time. He leaps through a red moongate when it appears in his back yard (it's still a mystery how or why) and finds himself in Trinsic, former City of Honor, where a gruesome murder has just occurred. A local blacksmith named Christopher and a wingless gargoyle named Inamo have been killed in a ritualistic manner. The Avatar teams up with his old friend Iolo and Christopher's son, Spark, to solve the mystery. He soon learns that the murders were committed by a gargoyle and a man with a hooked hand, and that they may have fled to Britain on a ship called The Crown Jewel. In Britain, the Avatar learns that a similar murder happened years ago in Britain.
Spark seems to think we have the kind of relationship where he can talk to me like this.
The victims of both the Trinsic and Britain murders had the misfortune of running afoul of a relatively recent fraternal/philosophical organization called The Fellowship, which seeks to replace the old Virtues of the Avatar with a simpler doctrine. They have maneuvered Fellowship members into positions of authority all over the land. The player should have some idea going into the game that the Fellowship is up to something suspicious, as the game manual--written by Fellowship founder Batlin of Britain--is a thinly-disguised revisionist history that undercuts both the Avatar and Lord British. As the game progresses, it becomes clear that the Fellowship (or at least its leaders) are taking orders from an otherworldly demon called the Guardian, and that they have a plan that involves a mysterious substance called blackrock. Someone has built a generator in the Dungeon Deceit, fueled by blackrock, that is affecting magic all over the world and driving mages insane.
While this is all going on, a mysterious island--the very one on which the Avatar defeated Exodus in Ultima III--has risen out of the ocean, causing worldwide tremors, and is waiting to be explored.

Most players join the Fellowship in Britain, either because they haven't been paying attention and believe it's a worthwhile organization, or else to investigate it from the inside. If they want, players can follow a relatively linear path that chases leads from one city to another until the game comes to an end. My Avatar, Gideon, declined to join the Fellowship and decided to conduct his investigation in his own order, starting with visiting the cities in the classic order of virtues: honesty, compassion, valor, justice, honor, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility. I decided to visit each city's associated dungeon at the same time, so I could engage in a little side exploration, wealth-building, and experience-earning. I also decided to take the opportunity to do a little "surplaying" (see the glossary) by following the virtues as in Ultima IV, visiting the associated shrines, and returning the Runes of Virtue to people in each town who deserve them.
In Moonglow, I stick the Rune of Honesty in the desk drawer of the town healer.
I made some significant progress in Moonglow, where I awoke the sorceress Penumbra--who had put herself in an enchanted slumber 200 years ago in anticipation of these events--and she told me about the anti-magic generator. She said that to destroy it, I would need the Ethereal Ring, currently in possession of the gargoyle king Draxinusom in the gargoyle city of Terfin.

In replaying these events, I mostly stuck to the script I related in my series of April and May entries, including visiting the Dungeon Despise (incorrectly called Shame) after Moonglow. I nabbed the magic carpet a little bit earlier. I found the switch that opened the room with the full set of plate armor in Lord British's castle. I saved myself from a repeat visit to the mines near Vesper by purchasing "Unlock Magic" from Nystul before I left Britain the first time. I probably missed the odd NPC or two. And of course I didn't repeat my Lock Lake clean-up efforts.
Despise ended up exhausting me with its numerous traps, teleporters, and locked doors; you find at least half a dozen keys in the dungeon and still not all the doors open. But I got far enough to serve my purpose, which was to make enough money to feel comfortable buying some spells and getting some training. I also got some nice equipment upgrades for my six characters. Before I gave up on the dungeon, a teleporter brought me to a little tower poking out above the mountain tops. There was a locked chest there. I've learned the hard way to open locked chests at a distance, as they can be trapped and explode. (In a weird subversion of reality, you can double-click on your lockpick and then have them open any accessible chest on the screen, no matter how far away from the characters. If it's far enough, they don't take any damage if the chest explodes, even though presumably one of them would have had to walk up to the chest with the lockpick in hand.) There wasn't enough room to get away in the tower, so I had Shamino lug the entire chest out of the tower and back to the streets of Britain, where I opened it in safety. It contained a sword called Magebane, which I don't remember from previous experiences with the game (admittedly, they were a long time ago). Magebane doesn't appear in Vetron's Guide to Weapons and Armor, so I don't know how much damage it does or why it's called "Magebane."
Finding a chest at the top of the world.
What I can tell you is that if you keep it wielded, it hums insistently. This problem doesn't just affect this one sword. If you equip a Wand of Fire, it cackles constantly until you run out of charges or put it away. Since there's no easy way to have characters "sheathe" weapons, having them make continual noise was one of the more obnoxious design choices in the game.

I had previously explored Britain, City of Compassion, and I had given the Rune of Compassion to Nastassia in Cove. Next up is Jhelom, City of Valor. But as I prepare to board my magic carpet, I realize that for role-playing reasons, I really need to go to Terfin next. Mages--including friends of mine--are being actively assaulted by the anti-magic generator in Deceit, and I know how to stop it. That's not something I can justify putting off.
The party takes the magic carpet to the island that was formerly the site of Blackthorn's castle. Shamino seems lost in thought as we arrive, and I recall that he was guillotined here back in my party's experience with Ultima V. It occurs to me that I failed to note his miraculous resurrection when he appeared at the beginning of Ultima VI. It's probably too late to ask him about it now. Terfin was settled by gargoyles fleeing the destruction of their homeworld after the events of Ultima VI.
Even here I have to hear this nonsense?
The first gargoyle we meet is a winged one, a trainer named Inforlem, who is capable of training in both strength/combat and intelligence/magic. Between him and Sentri in my party (dexterity/combat), I'm not sure we need anyone else. I suppose other trainers out there might be more efficient, requiring fewer slots to increase more attributes, but you can't hold your slots open forever while you run around comparing trainers.

The gargoyles' Shrines of the Principles--control, passion, and diligence--were relocated to Terfin, including the statues of Mondain, Minax, and Exodus. Exodus is again represented as a demon instead of the computer that he was in the game. You can't talk to them anymore, so either their spirits didn't make the trip or they just don't have anything to say. In my winning entry for Ultima VI, I talked a bit about how odd it was that the gargoyles would hold up humans as exemplars of their virtues, particularly tyrannical humans. It's as if some aliens came to Earth and told us their virtue system was exemplified by Pol Pot, Stalin, and Hitler. But the gargoyles seem to be using the triad more as examples of unbounded adherence to a single virtue--as in, Minax is an exemplar of passion unchecked by control and diligence. As such, I'm not sure they're really "worshiping" the triad so much as using them as warnings.
Someone bellyaching about food screws up this shot of Exodus.
Of course, the Fellowship is trying to make their way into Terfin, too, despite being closely associated with the Britannia Purity Society. The chapter hall is run by a winged gargoyle named Quan who refuses to explain the self-selected name. He sees a lot of overlap between the Gargish system of virtues and the Fellowship's Triad of Inner Strength. Runeb, a particularly rude winged gargoyle, is his assistant. I toss the building but don't find anything incriminating.
Quaeven runs a kind-of community center, a combination between an athletic facility and a library. He's also a Fellowship member, and currently working on converting Betra, the provisioner. He imparts some interesting information about the "voice" that Fellowship members supposedly hear after visiting the Meditation Retreat: it not only helps guide them in effective life choices but also helps them win at the gambling games at Buccaneer's Den. That's a bit worldly for a deity.

Anyway, Betra says he has no plans to join the Fellowship. Indeed, he's heard rumors of a plot to destroy the gargoyles' altars of virtue. He notes that only two gargoyles in town have the necessary supplies to pull this off: himself and Sarpling, a Fellowship member whose name, ominously, means "snake tongue." Upon further investigation, Sarpling has a note in his chest from Runeb, the Fellowship clerk, talking about the forthcoming use of explosives on the shrines. When confronted with the note, Sarpling caves immediately not only to the plan to blow up the shrines but also to assassinate Quan so that Runeb could take over the Fellowship branch.
This is why you don't talk without a lawyer.
Runeb attacks me when confronted with the evidence, and we're forced to kill him. Upon reporting all of this to Teregus, who maintains the shrines, we all get 50 experience points. Quan, for his part, refuses to believe in the plot even after Runeb's death.
The 6-to-1 odds didn't really work in his favor.
The tavernkeeper also tells us of continued problems between winged and wingless gargoyles and suggests that we talk to them about it. A gardener, Silamo, is a wingless gargoyle and clearly bitter about it, but he doesn't want to talk to us. I otherwise can't find any dialogue options related to this supposed problem.

Lord Draxinusom lives in a small, one-room hut next to the community center. He fondly remembers the old days and notes that no one really seems to look up to him anymore. He's suspicious of the Fellowship. When asked about his Ethereal Ring, he says he was forced to sell it, along with most of his other possessions, to the Sultan of Spektran to finance the gargoyle move to Terfin.

Before I can bring up the subject independently, Draxinusom happens to mention that Teregus's son, Inamo, is in Trinsic. Inamo left Terfin because of the growing influence of the Fellowship, with which he had vocal and public disagreements. This suggests that either the Fellowship got lucky when they were able to kill Christopher and Inamo at the same time, or that perhaps Inamo was the main target after all. We then have to break the news to Teregus, who is understandably upset and asks for updates on our investigation.
It was a waste of all life.
I'm surprised that I don't hear anything about the mines north of Terfin during our time in the village. I briefly pop in to check them out and find in the storeroom enough powder barrels to indeed destroy the shrines. We find lots of gargoyles working, but none of them will talk with us. I'm also surprised we didn't find an NPC companion in Terfin. I could have sworn I remembered there was at least one.
This guy has some issues.
The island of Spektran is northwest of Terfin. I think it's where we found the pirate treasure in Ultima VI. No longer a desert land crawling with giant ants (giant ants in general seem to have ceased being a problem in the last 200 years), Spektran is now lushly forested and dominated by a single large building. The door slides open as we approach, and the Sultan greets us from an armchair just a few feet into the hall. Wearing a Persian headwrap, he introduces himself as Martingo, the Sultan of Spektran. The man is clearly quite mad, hallucinating subjects--including a harem of 11 women--throughout his barren fortress. He repeatedly speaks to an invisible "advisor" during our conversation. I'd like to think that elsewhere in this game, you can find an interesting backstory on this person.

When we bring up the Ethereal Ring, he says that it's in his vault, and he welcomes us--dares us, in fact--to test its defenses and to retrieve it. His "vault" is in fact just a large room behind him. We soon find that the Sultan's vaunted "security system" consists primarily of a stone harpy that comes to life when we enter the room. The damned thing kills me repeatedly, and I hate waking up at that Fellowship shelter in Paws. I have never once kept playing from this situation, as I don't trust what the Fellowship did while I was unconscious, and I don't trust these doppelgangers of party members who are suddenly all full of praise for the Fellowship for finding and rescuing me.
Kind of a dumb thing to yell at a creature made of stone.
After dying a couple of times at the harpy's stone claws, I have this idea that it can only be defeated with fists. I don't know where I get this idea; I think maybe I'm muddling it with another game I played recently where that was true. It would make sense that conventional weapons wouldn't be able to do much damage to living stone, but then again, neither would fists. Either way, it seems to work, although it takes me another couple of reloads before I'm able to kill the harpy with all of my characters left alive.
Martingo's vaunted vault has nothing in it except three magic rings and the Ethereal Ring, which is the only one I take. We defeat some wolves before lifting off to the Dungeon Deceit.
My one fourth-level spell is looking a bit lonely.
Deceit is a man-made dungeon with brick walls. Its first challenge is a magically-locked door, but we take care of that with "Unlock Magic." A few harpies attack us on the other side, but they're regular harpies, not stone ones, and we don't have any problem with them.
A switch lowers a door which leads into a room with a dragon! We actually manage to kill the thing, but not before losing three party members. Since that route only seems to mislead you into a dragon battle, I reload and go a different direction. I soon find that the dungeon is characterized by unavoidable traps: arrows shooting out of the walls, fire erupting, lightning bolts zapping--which I can only avoid through trial and error or finding whoever sells the "Detect Trap" and "Disarm Trap" spells, but I seem to remember from previous experiences that they don't work very well.
Despite the yells, no one is protecting anyone here.
In the dungeon, I meet two warrior sisters named Eiko and Amanda. They are in pursuit of the cyclops who killed their father, a mage named Kalideth, and studied under a trainer named Karenna of Minoc specifically for the task. I find the cyclops in a clearing in the middle of the dungeon. He introduces himself as Iskander and admits he's done some monstrous things in the past in defense of his clan. He complains that humans seem to think that cyclopes exist solely to be killed by adventurers, and thus Iskander has been wandering the world looking for some place that will serve as a homeland. Neither conversation gives me dialogue options to use with the other parties, and I ultimately decide that it's none of my business and move on.
To be fair, your kinsmen in Cove attacked us first. After we invaded their home with weapons drawn.
Eventually, we make it to the tetrahedron generator. Exhausted and out of most spell reagents by the time we arrive, I am annoyed to find there's nothing obvious to do. Pointing Rudyom's wand at it doesn't cause it to explode. Double-clicking on it does nothing. Trying to walk into or on top of it does nothing. Frustrated, I consult my screen shots and am reminded that Penumbra wanted me to bring the Ethereal Ring back to her before I tried to use it.
Trying various things that don't work on the tetrahedron.
Rather than fight my way back out, I decide to reload from before I entered the dungeon. I take the carpet to Penumbra's and get the ring enchanted. Afterwards, she asks me an odd question: how did I know to come to her in the first place? The answer is, I didn't. I was exploring the towns in systematic order and followed the clues I found to wake her up. But that's not one of the answers I get, which are Nicodemus and the Time Lord, neither of whom I've actually met this game. It's a bit annoying that Origin didn't anticipate a player simply stumbling upon the quest this way.
Why is that even important?
Some miscellaneous observations before the end:
  • It's kind of annoying that the bedroll, which you often need to find in the dark, is one of the darkest items in the backpack.
  • Either the "Light" spell has a bizarrely random duration or something else is going on. I cast it while the party was exploring the Vesper mines. After that, I did the Moonglow/Penumbra segment and then flew to the Dungeon Despise. The spell was still active when I entered the dungeon and lasted for most of my exploration. Then, later, when I cast it in Deceit, it blinked out after about three minutes.
  • To land the magic carpet, you have to find a section of ground the size of the carpet that has no obstacles. A large plant, rock, or log is enough to stop the carpet from settling down. As I flew to Despise from Moonglow, I happened to pass over the ruins of Skara Brae, and I noted that the entire island seems designed to disallow using the magic carpet to get there. It is scattered with just enough rocks, logs, and other debris that there's no clear place large enough to accommodate it. That's just an impression, though; I didn't search the whole island.
They really want you to come in the long way.
  • I took note of some experience point rewards for solving quests. Returning the signed bill from Cove gave everyone 10 experience points. Solving the gunpowder plot gave us 50. These are small numbers in comparison to combat.
  • If I start the game with the GOG settings, it frequently freezes in the middle of NPC dialogue and I have to wait about 30 seconds, clicking around occasionally, before I get it unstuck. If I just fire up DOSBox and open the game on my own from there, this never happens. But I worry that not using the GOG settings is what caused the corruption last time.
  • The Books of Britannia entry has been updated with Brommer's Flora, The Book of Forgotten Mantras, and Book of Prophecy.
I fight my way back to the tetrahedron, and this time it lets me enter the thing, although my party members are unable to accompany me. I am pitted against a monstrous, demonic defender, and nothing I can do allows me to defeat him. This is the consequence of following my own path and reaching this point before most other players, who probably have more advanced protection spells, better equipment, higher levels, more training, and so forth.
Sorry it's so dark, but I ran out of sulfurous ash for the "Light" spell.
Thus returning to the outdoors, I reflect on my next move. The responsible thing to do would be to return to Britain and pick up the path the way the game was meant to be played. The second most responsible thing to do would be to continue my previous path, returning to the tetrahedron later when I'm more powerful. I thus board the magic carpet and aim it west, towards the Isle of Fire.

Time so far: 30 hours


  1. Using fists on the stone harpy is reminiscent of a quirk in The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. In that game hand-to-hand combat bypasses material immunities, so an imp that's immune to anything less than steel is still vulnerable to fists. It's often cited as a bug, but I like to think it was done intentionally to make weaponless characters feasible.

    1. A reference to Grendel, or the Nemean Lion perhaps?

      Nah, probably just a bug ;)

    2. If it's a reference to something, then most probably the original Colossal Cave Adventure, its famous "kill the dragon with your bare hands" puzzle.

  2. Ultima VII continues the tradition, really, that in many combats either your character is completely outmatched or you can defeat anything without breaking a sweat.

    1. I think this is one of the drawbacks with the combination of (1) non-linear gameplay, and (2) no difficulty scaling. The combats in all the dungeons are about the same, so the first dungeon is tough and the last one is a breeze. (Or course no one plays Ultima 7 for the satisfying combat.)

  3. Not sure how you find out about what Magebane does, but: V guvax vg erzbirf n zntr'f zntvp cbvagf, znxvat gurz hanoyr gb pnfg fcryyf. Ernyyl hfrshy nf n svefg fgevxr ntnvafg n zntr.

    On the subject of the weirdness around the Light spell, some weapons like the Firesword act as a permanent torch when equipped, so maybe it was that?

    Scara Brae: Interesting. There's a very particular way the game wants this part handled, so it makes sense they don't want you to just land there. Too bad they didn't plan the Penumbra storyline as well. I always played the game in order, so I'm really enjoying reading about it this way.

    1. Mind you, you CAN land the carpet on Skara Brae. There's at least one, maybe two spots where it's possible. My suspicion there is that at some point in beta testing they wanted to be able to get there in a hurry and forgot to put back down some rocks or brush in the spots.

    2. Seems like a lot of trouble to go to for testing when the game has such robust debug/cheat options. Easily could have been an oversight. On the other hand, Skara Brae is one of the few places in the game that has dialogue to account for getting there without the normal prerequisites. (Zbeqen pna gnyx gb lbh rira jvgubhg Frnapr)

      The Penumbra situation is pretty egregious, because it's not like you have to be actively trying to sequence break to trigger the out-of-sequence dialogue, nor is it just a few steps out of order. They really expect you to bounce all over Britannia following the main quest for quite a while without ever thinking "hey, my spellbook is pretty empty, maybe I should visit the wizard town". Or, upon getting there, not to be tempted either by the obvious puzzle or the fact that Penumbra was an important plot NPC in the previous game.

      My suspicion is that at least some of the main plot was written without taking the early availability of a boat/flying carpet in mind, and then never got updated later because all of the beta testers knew the "correct" way to play the game.

      (In their defense, this was very early in the history of open-world games with persistent state, and modern game studios have staffing levels, tooling, and design methodologies that were not available 3 decades ago -- and they still make mistakes like this sometimes.)

    3. Ultima 5 and 6 don't track durations. Instead, every turn has a flat small chance of a continuous spell ending, or a worn ring running out and vanishing. That may be happening with the Light spell here.

  4. Regarding the stone Harpy, imho it's a common trope that stone enemies are vulnerable to bludgeoning

    1. Yeah, but with hammers or maces, not usually with one's bare hands. That is weird.

    2. I think all my characters have edged weapons or special ones (lightning whip), so that would make sense.

    3. But I'm not sure the game difference that damage types, somebody else said they should be immon to magic (weapons).

    4. Ultima VII does not differentiate based upon damage type. The combat system is far more simple than that.

    5. It does, actually; just not between slashing and bludgeoning. The damage types are regular, magic, fire, and lightning. https://wiki.ultimacodex.com/wiki/Weapon_values

  5. In my playthrough, I focused on following the clues for the Crown Jewel and also ended up at Moonglow before having talked to Nicodemus and thus was also confused about the question from Penumbra on who sent me. For a game that is so delightfully non-linear, this seems like something that should have been obvious in playtesting.

  6. I'm still not tempted to play this game (unless remade in a different engine), but I enjoy your posts.

    "It was a waste of _all_ life."

    He's bald, he's bold, he's the CRPG Addict.

    "giant ants in general seem to have ceased being a problem in the last 200 years"

    Sounds like the doings of some virtuous exterminator.

    "I don't trust what the Fellowship did while I was unconscious"

    I bet they didn't even fix your teeth.

    1. '"It was a waste of _all_ life."

      He's bald, he's bold, he's the CRPG Addict.'

      What is this about?

    2. I was making a play on Black Lives Matter / "all lives matter." Teregus says, "to be such a waste of gargoyle life," but he apparently has nothing to say about the human, Christopher, murdered in the same event. Hence, the joke. I think Petrus's response was just his own way of saying "oh, snap."

      For the record, I think that the "all lives matter" rejoinder is the equivalent of showing up at an ALS fundraiser and shouting, "What's the matter? Don't you care about people who die of other diseases?!" My caption was just making an (I hope) witty reference to a current event, not (I hope) indicating that I support the anti-BLM side.

    3. I got it in the way you intended... There are still some us out here that can find the humor/irony in things without turning it into some perceived slight or offense.... But lately it seems like we may be dwindling in number.

      I don't post as much these days, but still love your work and read everything. Keep up the great work.

    4. Well, no one actually responded that they were offended but the comment, so I'll still hold out hope.

  7. Love the title, btw! I'll always remember, remember, because I happen to share a birthday with the famous gunpowder plot.

  8. "I had Shamino lug the entire chest out of the tower and back to the streets of Britain, where I opened it in safety"

    So, you take that chest out of an abandoned tower, to open it on the streets of the busiest town of the country. And you knew it was probably very explosive... Please tell me your party members were keeping bystanders at a safe distance!

    1. Oddly enough, Serpent Isle addresses the bug of opening chests from a distance by univat n genccrq purfg fcnja n sver svryq haqre lbhe punenpgre, ertneqyrff bs jurer lbh'er fgnaqvat.

  9. Reading this entry and your previous entry on U7, particularly the parts where you explore dungeons, make me realise I had completely forgotten that the game has such a strong RPG aspect. I remember specific plot parts, locations, characters, and even certain parts of dungeons, but almost nothing of the actual dungeon exploring. It's really nice to read about your dungeon exploration, definitively makes me realise it's much more of an RPG than I remember. Looking forward to the next U7 post! (well, to any post, but U7 is such a great game to rediscover)

    1. My memory is that a good portion of U7's dungeons are optional, which might explain why you don't remember them.

    2. Vs V erpnyy pbeerpgyl, gurer ner sbhe ovt barf gung nera'g bcgvbany: gur fdhner, pvepyr, naq gevnatyr; naq gur svany qhatrba.

  10. I seem to remember Glass Swords being useful 1 hit wonders for the odd, tough combat. Were they something I may have picked up from the Pirate Treasure? Recently re-purchased this on GoG, I might have to fire it up again!

    1. You're right, it's this game. The trick is actually using them instead of hoarding them for some theoretical super-hard combat late in the game that never happens (or is it just me who does that).

    2. I haven't found one yet, but if I do, that would be an alternative option.

    3. Gurer npghnyyl vf bar va gur qentba ubneq va gung fnzr qhatrba. Nyfb, abgr gung yvxr gur unecl orsber, guvf ornfg vf vzzhar gb pregnva jrcnbaf. Ohg abg gur tynff fjbeq, boivbhfyl.

  11. Reading this, I’m left feeling like the ordinary gameplay intrudes on the extraordinary world-building.

    I think if you wanna call the runestone quest ‘surplus roleplaying’, maybe you don't want to concatenate it. I think a good term describes itself (I couldn’t figure the ‘sur-‘ even knowing the meaning).

    1. I know I wrote that in the glossary, but I really just meant to use the prefix "sur," which means "over" or "above." Surplus, surfeit, surcharge. So "surplay" is to play over or above.

  12. The stone harpy apparently, is immune to magic weapons. Not sure if you had many of those equipped, but that might have been the problem.

    As for humming weapons, I never noticed that. Perhaps having the music turned off makes it worse.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Thanks for sticking with the game in spite of the bug (and having to replay a lot of hours), these posts are great.

  15. Doesn't it seem a bit racist that after 200 years on the surface gargoyles still haven't learnt proper surface language?

    1. As someone who often travels internationally: if speaking in infinitives is wrong, to not want to be right.

    2. That comment came out wrong (talk about mastering a second language ;)). I meant that the portrayal of gargoyles as speaking in infinitives evokes some racist tropes of "savages" not being able to master the "civilized" language of white folks.

    3. I see it more like a quirk of the gargoyle language. It probably only has infinitives, so they also use English verbs that way. Kinda like how people from Slavic countries often leave out articles because their languages don't have them. I can spot speakers of Slavic languages on the internet quite easily by how they don't know what to do with articles.

      It's not like everyone whose first language is Slavic always gets his articles wrong, but it's the kind of grammatical mistake that clearly places you within a certain language group.

    4. There's a whole discussion on this re: African-American Vernacular English that's too deep to go into right here but is worth reading up on.

      The short version is that, given the context of most of the conversations you're having, it's not Gargoyles "failing to learn proper English", it's the player failing to appreciate that it's actually them who's the outsider in existing cultural communication that's nuanced and well-understood amongst those regularly engaging with it.

      (Probably not what Origin were intending this to be an allegory for, but it's a fascinating enough area of study that people should just go read up on it anyway.)

    5. Yoda had 700 years to learn to speak properly and still had not learned, the klutz.

      Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    6. Cigar sometimes cigar just is, hmmmm?

    7. Ebonics! I remember that from the 90s! We all had a good laugh at the idea that black people couldn't possibly learn to speak English. Well-spoken people like Obama, Oprah and Bryant Gumble put an end to that misconception which was only ever held by racists. Today it is considered to be a language other than English (Smith 1997). English is the lingua franca of the planet, and kids who don't learn it in school are at a sharp disadvantage in our globalized world, no matter which country they come from. How are you going to compete for your job with people you can't communicate with?

    8. 1. "Well spoken people like Obama, Oprah, and Bryant Gumble." That you can identify a select number of people who do things a particular way does not necessarily damage the argument that a majority of people of a particular ethnicity and/or geography might speak in a certain way.

      2. "Only ever held by racists." The debate was started by the Oakland School Board, themselves black, and largely promoted by leftists.

      3. "Today it is considered to be a language." Appalling use of the passive voice. We'd have to survey them to get a complete picture, but I've never heard a respected linguist or English professor argue that it's anything more than a dialect of English.

      4. (Smith 1997). If you're going to toss in an in-text citation, you need the accompanying reference. If it's a reference to something written by Ernie A. Smith, I note that while he "has a fervent following among a small group of black educators in California, [he has] little standing among professional linguists" (Applebome, 1997).

      Money was at the root of the whole thing. By making the argument that Ebonics was not English, the Oakland School District would qualify for federal funds targeted specifically at schools with large populations of non-native speakers. However, the issue did have the effect of legitimizing the study of what is now more properly called African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) as a dialect. I've read a lot by John McWhorter on the subject, and AAVE isn't just trashy English--it has its own internal rules of grammar, sentence structure, and cadence. That doesn't mean that people who speak it can't speak regular English, just that there's a code-shift depending on who you're around and what the situation is.

      I don't know what my point is except that the seed of the debate had legitimacy, and the issue deserves to be treated with more than an "LOL."


      Applebome, P. (1997, March 1). Dispute over Ebonics reflects a volatile mix that roils urban education. The New York Times, p. 10. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/01/us/dispute-over-ebonics-reflects-a-volatile-mix-that-roils-urban-education.html

    9. I have no opinion on the various dialects of English (French, on the other hand...), but I am just delighted to see proper academic citation in the comments section of a blog! As someone who has spent countless hours trying to identify incompletely or improperly cited sources this makes me very happy.

    10. CRPG Addict said: "That doesn't mean that people who speak it can't speak regular English, just that there's a code-shift depending on who you're around and what the situation is. "

      Does that mean it's an identity thing?

    11. "A language is a dialect with an army."

      I understand that the Japanese government classifies Okinawan languages as dialects of Japanese despite the fact that one can't make heads or tails out of them based on standard Japanese, because they would be required to provide schooling with them otherwise.

      On another hand, Meänkieli spoken in Northern Sweden is officially recognised as language separate from Finnish for political reasons. This is in spite of it being completely understandable to Finnish speakers which means that it would never be considered to be anything but a dialect of Finnish if it was spoken in Finland.

      I'm sure there's any number of similar examples around the globe.

    12. There was supposed to be a link to the reference. This blog is not very stable, my first comment disappeared and I had to write a second.

      That you can identify a select number of people who do things a particular way does not necessarily damage the argument that a majority of people of a particular ethnicity and/or geography might speak in a certain way.

      The argument was that they couldn't possibly speak English. Only racists ever thought this. The narrative stinks of eagerness to chuckle at apparently backwards savages. It just so happens that all racists think this way even if not all persons who think this way are (overtly) racist. I am just passing by and forgot this is a gamer space. You people don't have the best reputation for being progressive. Don't you have a big problem with harassment of people with diverse voices in chat?

    13. The strange thing is, in Ultima VI, the Avatar has to actually learn the Gargish language to communicate with them at all. The implication there is that the weird speech patterns are a representation of the Avatar specifically communicating with them in their own language. Not that they're actually speaking English improperly.

      Whether VII is still going on the assumption that the Avatar speaks Gargish and is communicating with Gargoyle characters in Gargish, I don't know.

    14. Petrus:

      A lot of the language we use relates to identity/belonging, I think its inescapable - and I think a lot of us switch up the way we use language in different company.

    15. What the fuck, Florian. Assuming people here are racist because it's a blog about games when CRPG Addict has mentioned plenty of times that he leans left is a massive strawman. I don't think anyone here claimed blacks are biologically incapable of learning English. And the idea that all racists think so is also silly. I know some people who are racist and they don't think all blacks are incapable of learning proper English (they do however think that blacks have a lower average IQ than whites). I'd even say that it's a very rare belief these days.

      But maybe you can cite some studies on racist beliefs to back up your claims. That might be a more productive contribution to the discussion than accusing the readers of this blog of racism for no reason.

      As to the language and identity question, we Germans have a similar thing with the Swiss. Their version of German is kinda considered its own language, but it's relatively easy to understand for most Germans. Swiss people speak this Schwyzerdütsch amongst themselves, but when they visit Germany or Austria they are perfectly capable of speaking standard high German, albeit with a noticeable accent. Meanwhile Germans and Austrians can't speak Swiss German, but can understand it. It's a similar situation as with ebonics and standard English.

      Swiss German is also part of the Swiss identity. They consider it more than just a dialect because it helps them define themselves as a separate nation from Germany and Austria. They're very proud of their identity and language plays a part in that.

    16. Many cultures have and have had High and Low languages or dialects used based on context. French used to be Low Latin. It later became the High language in Tsarist Russia (among other places). So, none of that is novel — it's, in fact, universal.

      Not everyone who reads or posts on a blog has read every post. Given Gamer-Gate, Incels, and the fact that someone comes here to complain about what an "SJW" Chet is any time he suggests anything that doesn't line up with that, I wouldn't blame anyone for assuming that a gaming community probably gravitates towards the reactionary.

      That said, I'm not sure if Florian was calling the game racist, the blog post racist, or the community racist. Probably true in any case, we all have bias. The game is actively trying very hard to portray racism negatively without directly depicting racism against Black Americans. I think the language thing is mostly just trying to make the Gargoyles seem more Other... Though they are bright red and have wings and horns, so maybe it's ham-handed.

    17. I never thought he was calling me racist. But he was promoting a revisionist history by which it was "racists" promoting the teaching of "ebonics" (now more commonly called AAVE) in the first place, and a simple news search shows that it wasn't. What WAS common at the time was for activists CALL the idea of ebonics racist ("as if they're not smart enough to speak normally!") to score points in some imaginary culture war.

    18. NLeseul has a really good point above, and it shouldn't be lost in an ancillary political debate. It's probable the gargoyles ARE speaking properly--in Gargish. What we're seeing is the Avatar's translation of Gargish, and the Avatar is a bit too literal, translating the actual infinitive (which is all Gargish uses) instead of adapting it to the obvious subject under consideration.

    19. I would imagine that if Gargoyles didn't speak Brittanian, that would have been top of the list of complaints about them by Brittanians.

    20. Damn, I didn't know I was opening such a can of worms...

      Personally, I found both the "translating Gargish" version and the vernacular version unconvincing. If it's a vernacular, why isn't it a creole? And if it's a translation, why it grammar that gives Avatar trouble, and not vocabulary? Usually, it's the other way around.

      TBH, I think we can rationalize the way Gargoyles speak all we want, but I highly doubt that was the thought process in Origin. They probably just thought it was funny to make Gargoyles speak that way. I mean, it's not even very consistent - it's all infinitives in simple sentences or main clauses, but once we reach subordinate clauses, personal pronouns and proper tenses suddenly make a comeback.

    21. Well, compare Japanese, which actually does work kind of like how Gargish is presented. Simple Japanese sentences really don't need anything except the verb, and personal pronouns especially are rarely used except when really necessary. Japanese verbs also don't really have tenses (just past and not-past). So I can easily see an overly-literal translator choosing to render simple Japanese non-past sentences as English infinitives. 寒い! "To be cold!" 分かりません… "To understand not..."

      A big part of what makes Google Translate so uneven with Japanese is that it has to pick personal pronouns more or less randomly to make complete English sentences, and it usually doesn't stick with the same case through an entire paragraph.

      I'm rambling a bit, but Japanese does have the thing where explicit personal pronouns show up more and more as sentences get more complicated, since they start becoming necessary to clarify who or what each clause in a long sentence is talking about.

      Not that I think anyone at Origin looked at Japanese or any other language and designed Gargish grammar around that pattern, but it's at least not completely inconsistent with how actual grammar works.

  16. More fun with names! Inforlem is "person creating strength". Betra means small courage, i.e. "coward", which reminds me of the Greek mythological name Telemachos, which means "brave from a distance", or also "coward." Teregus is something something diligence. Silamo stands for something love; and of course, Inamo is create love; so they're gargoyle hippies, perhaps?

    Personally I really like this linguistic tie-in with the mantra and magic system.

    1. The UDIC maintained a page on the Language of the Gargoyles, it actually came from the original designers of Ultima VI. You can find it here:


      When I was a Seer with Ultima Online back in 1997-99, I really wanted to play a Gargoyle and only speak in actual Gargish. The GM's wouldn't let me though, correctly figuring that nobody would know what I was saying. :)

      Several of the names defy definition, like Teregus. (Place? Diligence?) Just tell me what Draxinusom is supposed to mean! (Dragon form of honor?)

    2. Drax In Us Om - the Dragon who Diligently Creates Spirituality. Sounds like a great title for a non-elected lifetime ruler, really.

      I had missed that Terfin is also Gargish, for "the last country". Not a bad name after fleeing the "abyss", either.

  17. 'he responsible thing to do would be to return to Britain and pick up the path the way the game was meant to be played."

    Didn't you mention finding some powder kegs in Terfin?

  18. I'd speculate that the Gargoyles were around somewhere in the worlds of I-III and were affected by the three big bads of those games just as much as humans were.

    I'd almost even wonder if most Gargoyles were actually working for said villains in the Ages of Darkness, and their enshrinement by the Gargoyles today is still a reflection of that. There were daemons in the first three games, right? It wouldn't be the first time Gargoyles have been mistaken for daemons.

    1. You are correct: Ultima I has winged daemons, II has non-winged daemons, and Ultima III has both daemons and gargoyles that share the same icon!

    2. So I'm in the middle of Forge of Virtue right now, and one of the lore bombs that it drops is that gargoyles were never what Britannians thought of as "daemons"; they're what Britannians thought of as "balrons." That makes a certain sense.

      I still wish the U6 writers hadn't gone with "gargoyles" as the name of the race, though--it has too much baggage with western mythology and the creatures turning to stone and whatnot. It would be as if a sci-fi story had humans visiting another planet and encountering "vampires"--but they're not undead, don't suck blood, etc. Just pick a different name. Or stick with the original "balrons" but show they have a complex culture.

    3. Interesting. I only know U7 and Forge of Virtue from the Avatar Adventures novelization/guidebook, and I don't recall that bit of lore being mentioned in there.

      I'm thinking specifically of Sin'Vraal, who was introduced as a daemon in U5 but then turned out to actually be a Gargoyle in U6. Maybe he was just a special Gargoyle who looked unusually like a daemon to Britannians.

    4. Yeah, it's definitely a retcon. It just works a little better than the original explanation given that "daemons" still clearly exist independent of gargoyles, even in Ultima VI.

    5. It's too bad about Sin'Vraal. Not only does he have a non-Gargish name, but he was a more interesting character in Ultima 5: A demon--an innately evil creature--who had been redeemed because Lord British taught him about virtue. In U6, you find that he's a member of a race that was never really "evil" in the first place. It weakens the U5 story and the character of Lord British.

    6. What doesn't help is that, both in earlier Ultima games AND in D&D, balrons are simply a kind of daemon (daemon lord, elite daemon, and so forth). For that matter, daemons in earlier games come in winged and non-winged variants, whereas balrons are always winged.

      Bear in mind that balrons are simply the balrog (YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!) from Tolkien. There shouldn't be enough of those to have a society in the first place, not to mention a virtuous one.

    7. Come to think of it, everyone ELSE in U6/7 seem to think that gargoyles are daemons, not balron. It strikes me that this is yet another retcon in Forge of Virtue, to cover for the fact that nepnqvba, n znyribyrag ragvgl gung trgf genccrq va n zveebe naq gur oynpx fjbeq, vf pnyyrq n qnrzba, qrfcvgr orvat gbgnyyl hayvxr nal bgure qnrzba va gur tnzrf.

    8. "Bear in mind that balrons are simply the balrog from Tolkien." I'm sure that's where the name came from, but it's not the same kind of creature, as evidenced by the fact that a party of adventurers can defeat not just one but a GROUP of balrons in combat.

      My only point was that if Ultima lore was that some race of creatures previously thought of as "evil" turned out to be gargoyles, it would make more sense if they were balrons, which never appear again in the series after the "gargoyle revelation" than daemons, which do. But I agree that plenty of characters say they're daemons and the clearly the writers didn't know what they were doing.

  19. Interestingly, going to Penumbra before Nicodemus or the Time Lord send you there is not actually a plot hole, EXCEPT for her final question, i.e. asking who sent you to her. It makes sense to find her by wandering, and she is troubled by the tetrahedron and asks you to fix it; and when you get to Nicodemus later, his issue (for which he would send you to Penumbra) is already resolved.


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