Monday, February 27, 2023

Serpent Isle: Armor Wars

Getting this screenshot was a lot more work than it should have been.
As this session begins, I decide to be oddly stubborn about getting Dupre's shield back from Luther. The problem, as I outlined last time, is that Luther will only relinquish the shield if I beat him in a duel, and he only duels on the List Field. You can choose to train or fight on the List Field, but if you "fight," you end up fighting everyone, whereas training is done one-on-one with your chosen opponent. Thus, to ensure I can win a fair fight against Luther, I have to have enough points to train. I decide to try to get these points by returning to the dungeon I found last time, partly because there's a chance it also has my spellbook. The book was replaced with a chunk of pumice, and several NPCs have indicated that pumice, a volcanic rock, probably comes from a dungeon called "Furnace." I don't know for sure that this dungeon near Monitor is Furnace, but it makes sense, as knights apparently often go questing there.
The trip is a partial success. I get some armor pieces to replace the ones I accidentally sold. We kill enough trolls for Dupre to level up, and we loot a ton more gems from their bodies. This time, some weird flaming dude attacks me with fireballs, but fortunately we're able to kill him before he does much damage. We find a magic axe in a pile of debris that I had missed last time. We even bring back a couple of pikemen's bodies for cremation. Renfry pays us 100 monetari each.
Renfry should be glad we're not evil, or he'd learn what the term "perverse incentive" means.
It's a failure in that we don't figure out how to open the locked grate or the locked door (behind which I can see a serpent staff) or figure out how to lower the drawbridge. Or find the spellbook. 
Combat has the same problems as The Black Gate: It's a complete mess in which it's nearly impossible to figure out what anyone is doing. Luck plays a huge role. The Avatar does nothing if an enemy isn't right next to him. Other companions vacillate between doing nothing and charging off-screen after distant enemies you haven't even seen yet, sometimes on the other sides of walls. Adjusting party "tactics" doesn't seem to have any effect. Enemies respawn as quickly as it takes to leave a screen and return. The only thing I haven't been able to assess is whether "friendly fire" is as big a problem as in the previous game.
Different combat strategies produce very little difference in results.
The next day, we arrive early at the List Field. I take a save, then send Dupre to train with Luther. He defeats Luther in about three blows. But Luther just says he's impressed and nothing else. Maybe training with him isn't enough. We waste most of a day trying to catch Luther off the field. He doesn't leave until late afternoon, and when he does, we can't find him in the training hall, sculptor's shop, or tavern. We have to resort to finding him in his house at night again. When we do, he has no new dialogue, continues to insist the shield is his, and continues to invite us to challenge him on the List Field.
Fed up with this part of the quest, we sleep for the night in our inn (Simon's body remains in the lobby, just as Lydia's did in her shop) and then head for the goblin encampment. The stairway behind the dead tree leads to a small dungeon with three goblins guarding a locked iron door. We dispatch the goblins and unlock the door with Simon's key. 
You'd think the guards would be on the other side.
Beyond the door is a large, multi-level dungeon, which I find surprising because I don't believe any of the dungeons in The Black Gate were multi-level (despite plenty of them in previous Ultimas). A little Googling confirms what I already suspected based on previous remarks from commenters: Both The Black Gate and Serpent Isle exist entirely on one "plane." In Gate, because you can explore the entire plane by ship and magic carpet, all dungeons had to be hidden within mountain ranges, constrained by those ranges' sizes and shapes. Stairs, in the rare places they exist, are illusory, simply moving you laterally to graphics that appear to be higher than the surrounding base, but never have anything underneath them.
Serpent Isle also exists on a single plane, but here you have no way of exploring the entire overworld. The magic carpet is back in Britannia, and for plot reasons, there are no ships on the sea. Thus, the developers could use the edges and corners of the world for whatever they want, including multiple levels per dungeon and levels that don't really fit within the constraints of the mountain ranges. When you go up and down stairways in dungeons, you're functionally just teleporting to other parts of the same plane. If you could see a true map of the Serpent Isle, you would find it crammed with dungeon levels and alternate instances of key overworld locations, all of them just slightly out of view of the Serpent Isle's coasts.
These goblins could use a housekeeper.
Getting back to the goblin dungeon specifically, it takes us a few visits to get through it. I wonder if the developers intended players to do some other things, or at least find a spellbook, before tackling this part of the game. There are fire, sleep, and poison fields throughout the dungeon that we must walk through as we have no means of dispelling them. I die twice, both times resurrected (by the monks) in Harnna's cornfield back in Monitor. Features of the dungeon include:
  • An area full of headless, who often carry gold nuggets.
  • A barrel full of potions.
  • A room with five casks of liquor behind a magically-locked door. I can't get through the door but I don't particularly need to get at the goblin brew anyway.
The goblins magically-lock this but not their treasure room.
  • A cavern with an enormous game board of 49 squares. It is reminiscent of Knight's Bridge in Britannia (see this entry), but with some key differences. It has the same number of squares as Knight's Bridge, but without the "roped off" squares on both sides. Where Knight's Bridge had a chest in the center that you had to dribble around, this one has an immobile pedestal in the center with a firedoom staff on it. Like Knight's Bridge, the game seems to involve human knights against gargoyles, but Knight's Bridge had interchangeable pieces that the player could move, while this board has pieces in different poses--plus one that looks like Lord British--and they won't be budged. A number of stone harpies stand on the board and come to life and attack when we approach. There's also a crazed mage in the room who tosses fireballs at us. A sign on the wall says, "DO NOT DISTURB GAMEMASTERS." Very weird. The stone harpies were responsible for one of my deaths, and the firedoom staff was responsible for the other when I actually tried to use it in combat. Has anyone actually successfully used the firedoom staff?
And wasn't the firedoom staff red in the previous game?
  • A stairway leading down to a pool of water. Some headless lurk on the shores. A sign reads, "BEWARE OF WATER CREATURES," but there are none in this room. 
  • A second, larger, "pool" room, with five monoliths erected around a fountain. Anywhere from one to four tentacles erupt every time the party enters this room. The fountain heals, though, so it's a great place to grind.
A rare instance of a Wilhelm Scream in text format.
  • A cavern containing a destroyed stone building with a checkerboard floor. A statue of a lich (or just an immobile lich?) shoots fireballs continually to the south. A fire wand rests on a pedestal. Mongbats patrol the southern part of the chamber. I can't find any way to stop the flow of fireballs or "kill" the lich.
What was this ever for?
  • A chest with four poison potions that explodes when we open it.
  • A room full of treasure that we have no way to access. The door won't respond to our blows or to picks.
The dungeon finally disgorges us in a seaside enclave with about a dozen huts. There's a well and a trio of campfires in the center. The area is swarming with goblins, of course, both male and female. Their disheveled huts show repeated signs of human butchery, including corpses, heads, limbs, and buckets of blood. The body of a female knight has a Sword of Defense; I wonder if this is Astrid.
You read my mind, Dupre.
We make our way slowly through them, killing goblins and collecting loot and food. The largest hut, with several furnishings (though still a dirt floor), belongs to Pomdirgun, the goblin king. We catch him sleeping, though he soon wakes up. After a couple of blows, he wants to talk. He presents his case simply: Serpent Isle (or at least this part) used to belong to the goblins; then men came and started killing goblins; one day, the goblins will kill all the men and reclaim their land. Their cause would be more sympathetic without all the butchery. Pomdirgun loses interest in talking after a few dialogue options. Some goblins rush in behind us. We're victorious in the subsequent battle, with no deaths, which surprises me. Pomdirgun drops a key and another magic axe. A chest in his hut has a pile of monetari, a pile of filari, and a couple of gems.
I love how in this game, there's no ambiguity that the goblins just need to be killed.
More important, a crate has a second key and 23 burst arrows. I'm going to assume these are Shamino's and the hairbrush we found belongs to Pomdirgun.
A crate in another hut contains, oddly, a Fellowship medallion. Yet another hut has a locked door with a pikeman on the other side. We free him, and he introduces himself as Johnson, probably the same Johnson who wrote Fighting is an Art.
Although he doesn't seem quite as brave as he claimed he was in the book.
Back in the dungeon, we use the goblin king's key to open the locked door. The room is full of liquor, gems, jewelry, and money. There are 15 guilders, 28 monetari, 10 gems, and several pieces of jewelry. I wonder why Pomdirgun is hoarding money used by each of the cities on the continent. There's a gold sextant, which I swap for my regular sextant, though I don't see how it's any better.
The goblin hoard.
Most important, the Helm of Courage sits on a table with two pieces of paper nearby. After settling the helm on my own head, I take a look at the papers. One of them is a scroll signed by Marsten, the leader of Monitor, though he stylizes himself as "king" in the signature line. He outlines his plans to send the Bears on a patrol near Bull Tower, then withdraw his forces from the tower, allowing the goblins to both destroy the patrol and sack the Sleeping Bull. In the letter, he describes his "enemies" as the Wolves and the Bears. The second letter is an older one, giving the goblins the information they needed to destroy the patrol near Fawn Tower and capture Astrid. It's signed by Spektor. Marsten and Spektor clearly decided at some point that the other factions in Monitor were somehow worse than the goblins. 
The Guardian should teach Marsten how to do the giant-talking-head-scroll thing.
We head back to town, where Marsten and Spektor have some 'splainin to do. We talk to a few people as we pass, but no one seems to recognize that I'm wearing the Helm of Monitor. We find Marsten and Spektor in Town Hall. Marsten has no new dialogue options, but we can tell Spektor we know he's a traitor, and we do. He shouts that he can defend himself, but then doesn't attack. Sighing, we head off to find Brendann, the leader of our command, to see if he's interested. 
"I just won't!"
Fortunately, that works. He's surprised that the traitor isn't Luther, but he vows to have Marsten and Spektor arrested. He also names me Champion Knight. He says that Bull Tower will need to be warned; I have no option to tell him that the goblin king is dead. After the conversation, he shouts, "Pikemen!" and three pikemen appear, but there's no more to the conversation. They act quickly, though: by the time we reach the jail, Marsten and Spektor are already in separate cells.
Oh, $$@#%. As you'll see, by the end of this session, I had completely forgotten about this.
Marsten gives the expected explanation: he needed to weaken the Wolves and Bears so the Leopards could rule the city--and somehow thereafter deal with the goblins despite the reduction in population. He says he had a "secret weapon" to defend the city, a "substance," but I'll never find it. I suspect he means blackrock. Spektor defends himself with the same logic, but adds that Cantra's father "stumbled into our secret cave, so he had to be killed." He adds that the secret weapon is "explosive." 
There is absolutely no analogue to this in contemporary politics.
We've done a great job depopulating Monitor. I'm beginning to wonder if there's anyone in town who isn't a traitor of some kind. 
The goblin expedition leveled up the Avatar and Dupre by one and Shamino and Iolo by two. Time to get Dupre's damned shield back. The next morning, I head to the List Field, where I have the Avatar ask to train with Luther. Fortunately, I defeat him. Luther acknowledges his defeat humbly: "Thou art a better man than I am." Unlike last time, I find him almost right away in Andral's studio--except that he won't talk to me while he's having his statue created.
I'm a little insulted.
I run around the rest of the town to see if anyone has a reaction to recent events. I have no idea who's in charge now. Both Brendann and Caladin hang around Town Hall during the day, but neither has assumed the role of money-changer, so I guess I'm screwed in that regard until I visit one of the other towns.
Lucilla in the tavern is the only one with any important dialogue. She says that Spektor gave her a key for safekeeping. I assume it opens the door to the "secret cave" he mentioned. At first, I assume it's the locked door in the dungeon I've already explored, but it doesn't work. I next go through the crypts, looking for secret doors. I don't find any, but I do see the slightest bit of a corridor south of the crypts that seems inaccessible from them. Exploring the mountain range to the south, I find a hidden door in the right location (accessible from within the town) that leads to a locked door.
I still don't see how you can have an illusory wall in a mountain.
We open the door with the key, enter the caverns beyond, and find 10 powder kegs, four locked chests, and the corpse of a pikeman. It's Cantra's father, as evidenced by a note on his body. The chests (which open with the same key) each have coins and gems, which I leave in place for now, maybe permanently. I mean, Spektor embezzled it from the treasury; it's not mine. So the substance that Marsten mentioned wasn't blackrock; it was just regular gunpowder. We've had that for hundreds of years in Britannia.
Back in town, I catch up with Luther in the training hall. "Now that thou hast bested me on the field of battle," he says, "I am thy friend." As my friend, he happily (and finally!) turns over Dupre's Shield, reclaiming his own. Well, technically, he reclaims a different Shield of Monitor that was in Iolo's pack, but I guess they're all interchangeable.
He's certainly changed his tune.
The last order of business is to notify Harnna about the fate of her husband. She's grateful but doesn't ask us to do anything special. I take his body to the crematorium for the usual 100 monetari reward.
He's right over there!
Miscellaneous notes:
  • Double-clicking on cows causes all the companions to shout, "Moo!"
Grow up, Shamino.
  • One exception to enemy respawning: at one point, I cleaned the goblins out of Fawn Tower, and when I returned, a pikeman was patrolling the location.
  • Lightning continues to strike randomly, occasionally damaging the party, occasionally dropping random objects.
Wouldn't it be nice if all lightning strikes left bouquets of flowers behind?
  • In the forest, I found a lot of money and a serpent crown stuffed in the hollow of a tree.
  • My companions keep unequipping their weapons, usually when I sleep, but often in the middle of the day. I have no idea how to stop this.
And speaking of equipment, let's do a quick equipment check:
  • Gideon, the Avatar, has a Sword of Defense, chain armor, Helm of Monitor, magic shield, magic leggings, magic boots, gauntlets, and a Gwani cloak.
  • Dupre has a magic axe, chain armor, chain helm, Dupre's Shield, chain leggings, chain boots, chain gauntlets, and my wolf cloak.
  • Shamino has a magic axe, leather armor, chain helm, Shield of Monitor, chain leggings, and leather boots.
  • Iolo has a bow, leather armor, leather helm, chain leggings, and leather boots. He'll run out of arrows eventually, so he has a crossbow and bolts in his pack. When he runs out of those, he also has a Shield of Monitor and a regular morningstar in his pack.
There's a book somewhere that gives weapon statistics--at least, I saw one in The Black Gate. I don't remember the values. I know that eventually I'm going to have to figure out the best weapons from a lot of potential possibilities.
I think I'm done with Monitor for now. It's time to explore avenues and new adventures on the Serpent Isle.
Time so far: 10 hours
Lost equipment status:
  • My spellbook was replaced with a chunk of pumice. Harnna thinks Krayg might know more about it. Krayg says such stones come from the center of the Earth, and Standarr often goes deep on his Quests of Courage. Standarr mentions a dungeon called Furnace.
  • My Black Sword was replaced with a ruddy rock.
  • My glass sword was replaced with a pinecone. Pine trees are found in the great forest to the north, according to Harnna.
  • The blackrock serpent was replaced by a pair of fine stockings.
  • A hunk of mutton was replaced by a bottle of ice wine. Harnna suggests that I run it by Simon at the inn. Simon says it's probably made by the rangers of Moonshade.
  • A leg of meat was replaced by 83 filari, a currency from one of the cities. Shamino's note oddly doesn't mention the money. This is the only trade in which I came out ahead.
  • Rudyom's Wand was replaced by a strange apparatus. Harnna doesn't know what to make of it but thinks that it may have something to do with Fawn's statuary or Moonshade's magic.
  • My magic armor was replaced by an enameled breast plate, "suitable for ceremonial occasions." Harnna says I should ask Standarr the armourer about it. Standarr says that he made it for Kylista, priestess of Fawn.
  • My magic helm was replaced by a woman's fur cap. Shamino's note says it's "ridiculous." I think it's very practical and not obviously a woman's at all. Harnna thinks it might be the work of Cellia the Furrier. Cellia recognizes it and says she created it for a mage in Moonshade named Frigidazzi.
  • My magic gauntlets were replaced by a ring. Shamino's note says that it's a "finely crafted ring, of silver, of a size to fit a small woman or child." I don't know what to make of the Avatar wearing it, then. Harnna points us to Lucilla, who is "interested in baubles and trinkets," but Lucilla only offers that it might be a marriage or engagement ring.
  • Dupre's Magebane has been replaced by a blue egg. Based on the thickness of the shell, Harnna thinks it probably comes from a bird that lives up north.
  • Dupre's Shield has been replaced by a Shield of Monitor. Harnna mentions that it could belong to anyone, and I should inquire around and see if anyone is missing a shield. Later, I hear that Luther has a new magic shield.
  • Shamino's 24 burst arrows were replaced with an odd hairbrush. "Crude," according to Shamino. Harnna has an odd reaction to it and says I should ask Templar about it. Templar says that it's a goblin hairbrush, made from the bones of their victims. Found in a goblin hut.
  • Shamino's dagger was replaced with a severed limb. The note clarifies that it's a "bloody hand." Harnna suggests we check with Renfry to see if he's encountered a body missing a hand. Renfry doesn't know where it came from, but he deduces that it's "not dead," so some kind of magic is involved.
  • Shamino's swamp boots were replaced with a pair of slippers, "such as might be worn in the privacy of one's home." Harnna doesn't believe they belong to anyone in Monitor and suggests I check with Krayg the Provisioner. Krayg says the closest place where someone might wear these is Sleeping Bull.
  • Shamino's magic bow was replaced with a bear skull Found in the opening minutes.
  • Iolo's crossbow has been replaced with an urn with ashes. Harnna confirms what I already know: it's a funeral urn, and Caladin's grandfather's urn is missing. Found in the Monitor crypts.
  • Five torches Iolo was carrying in his pack have been replaced by a pumpkin. Iolo's list doesn't mention this substitution, and all the others have been one-for-one.


  1. "More important, a crate has a second key and 23 burst arrows. I'm going to assume these are Shamino's and the hairbrush we found belongs to Pomdirgun."

    We can only imagine Shamino's reaction when he realizes this, and sees that Pomdirgun is bald.

    I don't think I ever found the secret cave with the explosives; the body of Cantra's father is a nice touch. With all their issues, I can't think of other games doing environmental storytelling as well as the Ultima 7 games, at this point in time.

    On the other hand, for a game that put that much emphasis on plot and prides itself for having a dynamic world, NPCs and companions not reacting to major events is kind of off-putting.

    1. To be fair to Origin, even more modern open-world games can be kind of iffy on the "reacting to major events" front.

  2. Nicely done with the goblin camp! I think there are easier areas to get those early levels before tackling that place.

    Does Johnson the pikeman ever show up back in town or something? I have a vague idea he gets himself killed by goblins when trying to escape

    1. Very mild spoiler, since not relevant for the larger plot.

      Va zl rkcrevrapr zbfg bs gur gvzr lbh ybfr uvz fbzrubj ba gur jnl gb Zbavgbe, ohg vs lbh znxr vg nyy gur gvzr (V qvq bapr be gjvpr) ur trgf na urneg nggnpx naq qvrf ng gur ragenapr. Lrf, frevbhfyl.

    2. Truly befitting of a hero like Johnson ;)

    3. I was going to say that Johnson looks like a generic pikeman, so the only way to pick him out of the several dozen of them that patrol the town is to speak to each of them. But Erik's comment seems to indicate he never makes it back either way.

    4. To elaborate:

      Nf ur sbyybjf lbh onpx vagb gur zbhagnva cnffntrf gung yrnq gb gur tboyva ivyyntr, va bar bs gur ynetre bcra ebbzf gurer'f n fpevcg gevttre va gur zvqqyr gung vs ur jnyxf bire gevttref uvf qrngu. Ubjrire, ur unf gb cnff guebhtu gur rknpg evtug cynpr sbe vg gb unccra, juvpu vf cerggl rnfl gb zvff. Vs lbh qb zvff vg, ur'yy sbyybj lbh onpx gb gur svefg frg bs fgnvef, ohg pna'g sbyybj lbh guebhtu gurz. Uvf obql, nybat jvgu Nfgevq'f, pna or perzngrq sbe 100 zbargnev vs lbh'er jvyyvat gb unhy vg onpx.

    5. It's almost impossible to get him back to the caves--he usually ends up either getting killed or getting lost somewhere along the way, and he has trouble navigating caverns. I don't think non-party NPCs are really able to navigate between those complicated pseudo-multi-level dungeons.

      I think I used cheats to move him back to Monitor once, but he didn't acknowledge it.

  3. Interesting observations about the one-plane-engine and its different use between the two games.

    1. It's a single plane, but it does allow another layer for roofs, and the characters can walk on the upper layer. That's unusual for such a 2D game.

    2. Is it really a 2D game? I always had the impression that every object in U7 pt. 1 and 2 had Z-values, actually making them three dimensional. AFAIK it has something to do with the shared technology between Wing Commander and U7 and was the base for the Exult3D fork.

    3. U7 is a 2D game with some tweaks to allow limited stacking; the technical term is 2.5D. Wing Commander is a true 3D game.

      Note how U7 uses axonometric sprites whereas WC uses vector graphics. This suggests that there is no shared technology or engine between the two of them, nor between WC and Exult3D; I wonder if you have a source on that?

    4. I got this quote "The game included features such as unique 2.5D style scaling-sprite based VGA graphics, a full, highly branching storyline, cinematic cutscenes before that was really a thing, character progression" from That means that WC wasn't vector based 3D until WC3, but the sprites had Z-values. The cutscene technology from WC1 and 2 was used in U6 already.

  4. There are overworld maps out there for both games easily found with google. But they would be spoilers! It is interesting to look at how they constructed the game engine.

    The cows saying "moo" appear to presage the cowmaggedon effect recently discovered in Nox Archaist. Moo! Indeed...

    1. There's also the murdercows in Diablo II, and the cow demon in Witcher III after killing too many of them...

  5. "Has anyone actually successfully used the firedoom staff?"

    You don't want to use it in normal combat, but if you know some enemies are ahead you can have the Avatar start combat by firing off a shot before the two sides come together. Then switch to a different weapon.

    1. Too much micromanaging for me, I'm afraid. But thanks for offering a viable tactic.

    2. It "works" pretty well as an everlasting torch, provided you instruct the bearer not to attack ;)

      Jokes aside, the reduction of 1/4 of combat effectiveness (late game you can have an automaton carry it) compensates having to deal with torches, lowers the need for sleeping, which in turn lowers the need for food and having to reequip your party members after waking up.

    3. There are a few places in the game where you're alone, and at that point the firedoom staff becomes a viable weapon. And yes, it was red in the previous game.


    4. frankly, you should never be alone after the knights test.
      Create Automaton is probably the most important spell in the game and should be acquired as soon as available

  6. Another spoiler, but fairly non-specific and one that might be good to know about to avoid issues down the road.

    Znxr fher gb xrrc naq abg ybfr gur pebja. Fhssvpr gb fnl vg vf abg n frecrag pebja, vg vf *gur* frecrag pebja.

    1. I vaguely remember Serpent Isle to be more "scripted" than Black Gate, and there's more items to track down and keep track of. As if backpack management wasn't already an issue, there's also the problem of ng n pregnva cbvag va gur tnzr lbh ybfr nyy lbhe cnegl zrzoref naq fb lbh arrq gb znxr fher nyyyyyyyyy xrl vgrzf ner abg yrsg oruvaq

  7. Lydia after poisoning you : "Die, pawn of Demon British" Attack 1 against 4, die.

    The lone Goblin traitor is uncovered : "You will not arrest me." Attack 1 against 4, die.

    Two Lords, the epithomes of Courage, are uncovered and 3 non-Avatar nameless Pikemen come to them: "Oh well, I guess we go to jail then"

    1. If we go by my earlier theory that Bear Command = courage/brutes, Wolf = love/philanderers, and Leopard = truth/bureaucrats, I note that Lydia and that goblin traitor are both bears (as are belligerent Luther former knight champion Astrid; and Johnson is clearly not); potential bed partners Brendan and Lucilla are both wolves; and Marsten and Spektor are both leopards.

      I suppose "traitor" may be more appropriate here than "bureaucrat". Another traitor you meet much later in the game (qenltna gur vaihyarenoyr enatre) also turns out to be a leopard. Finally, Harnna the spellcaster-in-hiding could be called a traitor to the values of Monitor (which hates spellcasters).

      To make Marsten's betrayal more personal: Astrid was his lover, and he had her killed by goblins. Yup.

    2. Even to this day "you found out my secret? then I will attack you and your heavily-armed band of professional killers with this steak knife!" is far too common a resolution to quests in RPGs. At least Simon the goblin is pretty explicitly committing suicide-by-Avatar.

    3. In Icewind dale 2 one early boss fight can be skipped when talking to them you point out that you have murdered everybody on your way there.

    4. I thought there might be a connection here to the first Canto of Dante's Divine Comedy, in which the Pilgrim meets three beasts blocking his path in the Dark Wood of Error, each representing a different category of sin - a leopard (fraud), a wolf (intemperance), and a lion (wrath). Substitute 'bear' for 'lion' and this seems to be a similar pattern.

  8. You can indeed make quite a lot of money at the crematorium! There was a time I spent quite a lot of time trying to gather as much money as I could before a certain point.

    Of course money is never really an issue in the game, especially later on.

    1. I did much the same in my most recent playthrough attempt, two or three years back. It led directly to me ragequitting, though at least it was later than I usually end up doing with this game.

      After a certain point - probably the same one you mean (gur onarf trggvat eryrnfrq) - nyy bs gur zbarlpunatref qvr. Rffragvnyyl nyy bs zl inyhnoyrf jrer va trzf, tbyq onef naq ahttrgf, wrjryel, naq gur guerr gbja-fcrpvsvp pheerapvrf, juvyr gur genvaref va gur Fvyire Frrq npprcg bayl cynva tbyq pbvaf.

      Gurer'f uneqyl nal pbzong va gur znva tnzr nsgre gung cbvag, naq V'q nyernql svavfurq gur Fvyire Frrq dhrfgf, ohg gung'f abg gur cbvag! V jnfa'g qbar znkvat rirelbar'f fgngf lrg! Fb zhpu sehfgengr.

  9. If you fight (not train) on the list field, you face everybody who's there at the time. Depending on the time of day, it's possible to fight Luther alone.

    And yes, you can put off fighting the goblins until later when you're stronger and/or have a spellbook. I feel the developers possibly intended for you to wait until you discover what the Helm of Courage is FOR. But then, it's very avatarish to deal with the goblin menace immediately, and they'll probably be a total pushover if you come at them with spells.

    Three plotstoppers:
    1) Stay away from the Serpent Staff, or a scripted dialogue will not trigger later in the game (it might be too late for you already).
    2) Do not talk to humanoid ghosts, or you will get the dialogue of a late-game character straightaway, but not at the right time.
    3) In the Silver Seed, if you click on the pillars in Isstanar's room, you will be teleported to an area outside the Silver Seed. Uiop

    The list of bugs is here, but it is full of spoilers:

    1. "Uiop" is a typo, of course. My finger slipped.

    2. I read about these three plotstopper bugs when I started the game (damn spoilers), so I avoided them. They might stop just one dialogue each, or they might stop every scripted dialogue starting from the specified one.

  11. Speaking of "perverse incentives", Doug the Eagle describes it this way on his Serpent Isle page:

    "The only reliable source of income I've found is the Pikemen of Monitor.
    If they die, and you take their bodies to Renfry for cremation, he'll give you 100 quid for each body.

    As soon as I discovered this, a mysterious plague struck dozens of Pikemen.
    It was very sad.. but I was always there to give them a proper funeral.."

    If you've never seen it, you have to read his Serpent Isle anti-walkthrough. It's one of the most hilariously demented walkthroughs of any game I've ever read:

    1. He also has videos on YT as 'tapewolf' messing around with games, among them 'Let's Break' ones for BG and SI.

      Potentially interesting once you've completed the game, I'd think, to avoid spoilers, same as the things he does on his site with U5-U9 if you don't know it yet (

  12. The most effective 'strategy' I ever found in Ultima 7 and Serpent Isle was basically to set everyone to Defend the Avatar. They aren't any GOOD at it (I'm pretty sure I still died way more frequently than Iolo or Dupre ever did), but it keep them from wandering off so much.

    I do sort of suspect that half the time I was dying because Iolo shot me in the back, though.

  13. True story: when I played this game for the first time I didn't notice there were two documents in the goblin treasure chamber with the Helm of Courage. I picked up the one indicting Marsten and took it back to Monitor, where the logical person to show it to seemed to be Spektor. Spektor solemnly listened to my story, accepted the evidence, and told me he would conduct his own investigation. "These things take time!" he would say, for the rest of the game.

    I ended up restarting the game so I don't know if Spektor and Marsten would have survived through to the end of the game, but it's amusing that the developers foresaw the player making the error I did.

  14. Love that you are working on this game, one of my favorites!

    The friendly fire thing is awful in BG and SI. I avoid the firedoom staff and burst arrows or any other explosive weapons.

    Also, funny enough after all these years of playing this game, I never sought to find the "secret cave".

  15. I might have said this during the last VII playthrough: Origin anticipated modern open-world tactical rpgs without quite managing to make the first example of one.

    The simplest way to break down an RPG is into two parts: an adventure game component and a strategy game component. VII excels at the former - way ahead of its time - but almost completely fails at the latter. The strategy game components of III thru VI are all much better.

    1. Good post, condensed some meandering thoughts I had, especially on Serpent Isle!

      Although the "adventure game part" of this one is prone to just a few too many (potentially showstopping) bugs, and in some cases will also give you that typical-of-adventure-games feeling of "I can't think of anything else to do here, what am I missing?" followed by days of walking around aimlessly and trying anything on everything.

    2. Both Ultima VII parts are incredibly innovative games in different ways. The complex scripted sequences in Serpent Isle are quite forward-looking, for instance. I don't think any game would come close for at least another 4-5 years. (And nobody but Bethesda would try so hard to make truly in-simulation scripted sequences with no 'cheating' work. Mostly because it's a bad idea. But a fun one.)

      If you could combine the best things about the two parts and improve the combat you would have one of the greatest games of all time, an incredibly ahead-of-its-time classic. As it is, you have two pretty good games, innovative but frustratingly flawed.

    3. My opinion on Ultima 7 combat is pretty simple. It's not a great system, but there is not too much combat and it is over super quick. So I do not mind it.

      Ultima 6 combat is without a doubt more tactical and a better system, but I dislike it more than U7. Because it takes up a lot more time and is still not exciting enough to make me really care about that aspect of the gameplay.

      For a modern comparison I feel the same about Morrowind and Oblivion. Oblivion has the better system but so much more combat and hp sponge enemies that I actually prefer MW combat because it is fast.

    4. Additional thoughts:

      Four ingredients of the Gimlet are primarily related to the exploration of and interaction with the game’s fiction - what I consider the 'adventure' component of RPGs: Game World; NPCs; Quests; Encounters & Foes.

      Four ingredients of the Gimlet are primarily related to the traditional fight-loot-level gameplay loop - the strategy* component: Character Creation/Development; Combat/Magic; Equipment; Economy.

      (The other two gimlet ingredients look at the game as a whole.)

      RPGs might be weighted more heavily towards their adventure or strategy components, but as a rule, I think the RPG classification requires both to be present. Some people might find Torment too adventure-heavy, others might find Icewind Dale weighted too far in the strategy direction, but most people will agree that they are both clear examples of RPGs. On the other hand, most people will agree that Warlords and King's Quest are both not RPGs.

      *by strategy I don't mean its necessarily turn-based, the gameplay could take place within a first-person shooter, platformer or other context.

    5. @Erik

      Yeah, when combat is kind of bad, but fast, the game wont necessarily suffer that much for it. I think New Vegas is a good example. Combat is unbalanced and the gunplay physics aren't very enjoyable, but your NPCs terminate things at high speed so it doesn't usually bog down the game experience.

    6. I think I mentioned this somewhere in the U7 comments, but a favorable view of this fighting system is that it's realistic. Combat is sudden, quick, chaotic, and brutal. You do what you can to prepare before it starts, but then it's mostly out of your hands.

      I know that's no subsitute for those looking for familiar tactics and missing them here. But it has it's own logic, it doesn't waste your time, and works well with the more adventure-focused nature of this game.

    7. I definitely don't think U7 needs full tactical combat. It could stand to be a little less random and have a bit more visual feedback, and the equipment system would benefit from a bit more depth and variety. The main problem with it is that the AI is pretty bad. But I'd much rather have the status quo than a mediocre turn-based system (and I would argue that previous Ultima games never got beyond "mediocre" for turn-based combat).

    8. Hm, a CRPG combat system where the focus is on equipment and preparing the fight, and where the player purposefully doesn't have much control over the actions in the combat itself? Where the player equips specific weapons against specific enemies (e.g. hammers against skeletons), and prepares the right mixture of spells for specific combats (e.g. "turn undead" and "protect against fear")? Where the battles only last 20 seconds? Sounds very interesting, actually.

    9. I ended up liking Ultima VII combat, it is as asimpkins says "sudden, quick, chaotic and brutal".

      I find something very unsatisfying with combats in most (not all) RPGs : either you "lose" and restart, or you "win" and you end up in the same state as your started (+ loots & xp, - arrows and potions maybe), whether you played barely well-enough to beat the combat, or perfectly. In many games, if your guys are wounded, it is nothing that spending some time rest will not fix - and characters are time-rich. Again, that's not all the games : there are rogue-likes, there are games where you must manage scarce resources like bullets or HP on the long run, there are games like Expeditions where your characters can receive long-term injuries, like Renowed Explorers where the way you won a combat has long term impact. Still, for most RPG it is either "win" or "lose", including U4 to U : you don't lose characters forever (or if you do the game expect you to reload) and enemy forces don't build up while you recover from your wounds.

      This makes combats low-stake, so I find them stale except in those cases where they are great as a "puzzle" (eg Temple of Elemental Evil to take an example). Again, not the case in U4 to U6, so I am very happy with the U7 "short-cut" of "press C to check whether you are equiped well-enough to survive this battle".

    10. Interesting discussion. While I think TWS has good points, to me tactical turn-based combat in itself, like (partly) in the Gold Box games, usually (unless it becomes too grindy / there is too much of it) is a challenge I enjoy in itself. It can be like a puzzle. For those often it also does not matter how long you take to solve it or in which way if there are several options.

      And in games where you can't rest among fights - either in general or in specific situations like e.g. the Kobold caves in Pool of Radiance or the final fights in Pools of Darkness (guess that doesn't count as spoilers at this stage) - it does matter how you come out of a fight with regard to spells, usable items like potions and even HP (depending again on your available healing spells and items).

      Chet has written more than once about the distinction between games where every fight is potentially 'to the death' and those where the combination of several of them creates the challenge. Both have their pros and cons depending on implementation, but in both combat itself can be a gameplay element that is part of what makes the game attractive (at least to some of us).

    11. Looking back on this game, I've also enjoyed the combat in its fast and chaotic way; and I think that if there was player outcry against U7's combat, they would have changed it for U7SI.

      That said, it clearly isn't tactical nor challenging, so I totally understand that it's not satisfying if that's what you want from RPG mechanics.

    12. This has been a great thread. I think Tristan made an important first point. One of the good things about U7 combat is that it occurs in the same interface as exploration. I find that in games where this is true, combat can be very tactical because all of the game's physics, objects, and terrain can theoretically play a role. But he's also right that U7P2 isn't a great example of what it anticipates because you can't control party members, friendly fire eliminates a lot of the tactics you might otherwise use, and leading enemies to more favorable terrain just means that the original enemies respawn by the time you return.

      I also agree with Erik that combat at least has the virtue of being fast. That said, I appear to find more virutes in the combat systems of U5-U7 than everyone else.

    13. @TWS

      Most games (even roguelikes) tend to mostly contain straightforward encounters punctuated by harder, more memorable ones. Games that attempt to challenge the player at every interval are rarer, though there is certainly a market for them.

      Some genres lend themselves to challenge-centric gameplay, eg top-down shooters, platformers, roguelites and puzzle games, but there are a couple of reasons why the traditional RPG is ill-suited to provide that experience.

      Challenge-centric tend to involve a lot of repeated content, because players fail a lot. A game with lots of narrative and exploration doesn't really suit restarting because you realise your build isnt viable, or that you spent too many resources in a combat an hour ago.

      Challenge-centric need tight balance, but players will arrive at content in RPGs with parties of wildly varying capabilities, depending on party composition, and when they happen to explore a particular area.

      To address these issues, challenge-centric RPGs tend not to be exploration or narrative driven, and either use procedurally generated content, or content-on-rails to achieve their ends. Because of this, they don't tend to do a very good job at scratching the RPG itch. The Banner Saga, Darkest Dungeon and Battle Brothers are good at what they do, but they aren't really the same genre of game as Ultima et al.

    14. I do like Ultima 5 combat myself. I feel it's the best in the series and with the dungeon rooms there are some interesting setups and it has the best rewards for defeating difficult enemies.

      I'd say the biggest flaw I find with it is how binary it gets with having access to Negate Magic (ideally in form of the Crown). Enemies who can gate in demons and/or possess your party member such as dragons, wisps and demons are really horrible without it.

      There's also the relatively low XP per enemy combined with no quest XP in Ultima 5, so it gets very grindy. Especially if you played the game a lot and have a basic idea of what do in which order.

      I guess Ultima 6 combat is very similar and it is only the interface that makes me dislike it. It's clunky (remove sword -> equip spellbook -> cast spell -> remove spellbook -> equip sword) and that you often see only a part of the battlefield due to the extremely short view radius makes me struggle with enjoying it.

  16. "I still don't see how you can have an illusory wall in a mountain."

    Ask Wile E. Coyote.

  17. About Furnace, and the spellbook: The Serpent Isle cloth map will confirm where Furnace is. It should be possible to find the spellbook at this stage of the game, but it's a bit hidden, in an environmental story telling kind of way, not an outright pixel hunt.

  18. "Serpent Isle (or at least this part) used to belong to the goblins; then men came and started killing goblins; one day, the goblins will kill all the men and reclaim their land. Their cause would be more sympathetic without all the butchery."

    I see how well that worked for indigenous tribes in the real world.

  19. Because of my liberal use of the exult teleport cheat I ended up breaking one of the plot points in Fawn - after doing all the rest. I deserve it. Cheaters do deserve it. I will burn in hell.

    1. I've sent Britannian priests to retrieve the bell, book, and candle from the Abyss for your formal excommunication.


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