Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ultima IV: Travel

My Ultima IV gameplay today mirrored the last four weeks of my real life: I traveled all over the world and visited a bunch of different cities. Of course, in real life I did it by airplane instead of by pirate ship.

I got some immediate luck as I started playing, encountering a pirate ship nearly immediately. So many locations in Ultima IV are accessible only by ship--Buccaneer's Den, the town of Cove, the island of the Abyss--that having one is absolutely essential. But I forgot how much of a pain in the neck it is to fight from them, especially if your characters don't have missile weapons. There are only a couple of points from which you can attack.

When cannons fail...

My ship gets attacked by creatures constantly--much more often than I remember from earlier Ultima IV plays. The battles are annoying because water creatures don't drop any treasure and, being non-evil, you're not really supposed to kill them anyway.

Nonetheless, between ships and moongates, today I visited the rest of the eight major Ultima IV towns and the four minor villages (Buccaneer's Den, Cove, Vesper, and Paws). Some notes from a few of these towns:

  • Continuing our analysis of famous quotes, I have met a wizard in Moonglow named Shakespeare who tells me that "corruption wins not more than honesty!" This, of course, is a quote from Shakespeare's Henry VIII. In the play, the line is delivered by Thomas Woolsey, and the full quote is: "Love thyself last: cherish those hearts that hate thee; Corruption wins not more than honesty." This has implications for several of the Ultima IV virtues.
  • An old gypsy named Inoo tells me that my destiny is to descend into the Abyss and read the codex.
  • I learn that Nigel at the Lycaeum knows the "recall" (also known as "resurrect" spell). This is important because the Book of Mystic Wisdom does not give you the reagent combination for this spell.
  • A sleep spell requires only one part spider silk. The book says you need two.
  • The blue stone of honesty is in the dungeon Deceit (note how the dungeon names always suggest the opposite of the associated virtue: compassion = Despise; honor = Shame; etc.)
  • A paladin named Cromwell tells me that the mantra of honesty is AHM. He also tells me that "a few honest men are better than numbers," which of course is a real Oliver Cromwell quote and fits perfectly with the Henry VIII theme established by Shakespeare. Wow, am I glad I started looking these things up.
  • A wizard named Rebelias tells me to "speak the truth and shame the evil forces." This is a paraphrase of a quote from the French author Francois Rabelais: "speak the truth and shame the devil."
  • There are a bunch of chests in a room occupied by a "starving journalist" named Tracie. I do not steal them because this would be dishonest. Tracie wants to quit smoking. I assume this is an in-joke of some kind.
  • I meet a jester named Dekker, probably an allusion to Thomas Dekker, another Elizabethan dramatist. A little Googling also informs me that there is a character named John Dekker in Origin's Wing Commander. I hope no one is getting sick of this kind of thing, because I find it a lot of fun.
  • The mage Mariah joins me.
  • There's a kid named "Short Round" who works for "Jones."
  • I ask Calumny about mandrake, and he tells me it can only be found in the Fens of the Dead or on the Bloody Plains. I seem to recall never being able to find it in the Fens in previous games.
  • By being honest about having committed crimes, I got a clue as to the location of the rune of Justice: in a cell in the jail with a criminal.
  • The mantra of justice is BEH
  • Jaana the Druid doesn't join me because I'm not experienced enough. I had forgotten that you're limited in your number of companions by your level. I'm level 4. Having already picked up Shamino, Iolo, and Mariah, I will need to wait until I level up before I can collect anyone else.
Finding the rune of justice in the cell of a violent criminal. Irony.

Buccaneer's Den
  • Visited the guild and bought a slew of torches, gems (they allow you to automap areas), and keys (for jimmying locked doors).


  • Magincia was founded on the non-virtue of pride and was destroyed by daemons for its sins. This has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Why would daemons care that a city was proud? This is especially puzzling given what we found out about daemons in Ultima VI.
  • The rune was banished from the city. I should ask Barren in Paws
  • I need a silver horn to pass the daemons guarding the shrine of humility on the north bank of the isle of the Abyss. I can find out about the horn from the Queen of Love's lady-in-waiting. Presumably this is in Empath Abbey.

I finished off the day with a visit to the town of Cove, where I talked to a seahorse and an inanimate ankh as well as Paul and Linda McCartney spouting some nonsense about teaching children songs of joy. There is also a man named Rabindranath Tagore, named after the Indian writer, who issues one of the real Tagore's quotes: "In love, all of life's contradictions dissolve and disappear," a line used by--you guessed it--Paul McCartney.

My plan for the rest of the game now looks something like this:

  • Visit the Lycaeum, Empath Abbey, and Serpent's Hold (the three keeps devoted to the principles of virtue: truth, love, and courage).
  • Re-visit each of the major towns, collecting all of the mantras and runes, resolving clues I got in other towns, jimmying doors that I previously found locked, and dispelling fields blocking my path to characters or places.
  • Pray at each of the shrines.
  • Visit each of the dungeons and collect the stones.
  • Do any other items on my list before the end game.
  • Descend into the Abyss.
In my next post, I'll discuss the magic system. In the meantime, here's a role-playing question. You're sailing along and you come across something like the image below. Clearly something is to be found in that little patch of water, but so far I haven't received any hints--I just happened to stumble on it. Do you search anyway, or wait for the appropriate hint?

Ultima IV in Flash

Almost a month ago, a reader named Blair Leggett posted a comment to one of my Ultima IV postings indicating that he had created a Flash version of Ultima IV and posted it online. At the time I read it, this seemed so wildly improbable that I didn't give it much thought, although I mentally filed it to check it out when I had a free moment.

The CRPG Addict in a rare free moment.

Blair, I apologize. I shouldn't have doubted you. The effort you have put in to the recreation of this game is nothing short of incredible. I encourage anyone interested in playing this classic game to skip downloading and installing it, and simply go to Blair's site:

Blair's contributions don't end with the game itself. He has also posted clean PDF versions of the History of Britannia and the Book of Mystic Wisdom (the spellbook), which I will be using throughout the rest of my playing. Finally, don't forget to visit his blog at... learn about the development of the project.

I think it says something about the richness of the plots and quests in the Ultima series that fans are so eager to remake the games. This page catalogs a host of attempts by different developers--some completed, some still in progress--to update Ultima IV and other games in the series to modern operating systems, graphics, and sound. There are several remakes using the Neverwinter Nights engine. I would sacrifice an eighth* for a version using the Infinity engine (from Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale).

Blair, thanks for reading, and thanks for all your work in perpetuating this excellent game.

*That was the geekiest thing I've ever said. You'll get the reference in a few postings.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

CRPG Addict is Back

My return to Ultima IV started with a trip to Britain, helpfully right next door to Lord British's castle. Here I learned:

  • Some artifact of Mondain (from Ultima I) still exists in the world. Presumably it's his skull, since I must ask about the "skull" at the pub in Buccaneer's Den.
  • I can boost my compassion by giving money to beggars. Britain helpfully supplies one: a beggar named Sprite, who in return for 5 gold pieces told me to ask Pepper of the rune.
  • The yellow stone is in the dungeon Despise
  • Magincia was destroyed by daemons for its pride (always a bit of a mystery; who sent them, and why did they care that the city was proud?)
  • The mantra for the Shrine of Compassion is MU
  • The rune of compassion is at the end of a hallway (this from a "spicy woman" named Pepper)

I also picked up good ol' Iolo, who was playing a mandolin for some children while his wife, Gweno, danced. Of course, Ultima IV doesn't tell you that they're married (you learn that in V or VI, I think), nor even that Iolo is a male (as a young Ultima IV player, I was confused about this for years).

I feel really bad for killing these two in Ultima I and Ultima II.

After Britain, I returned to Lord British's castle for some healing and both Americus and Shamino leveled. I forgot that Lord British did that for you. I was thinking you had to hole up and camp and he would appear in your dreams to level you, but now I'm thinking that's Ultima V.

Yes, this short posting represents only about 20 minutes of playing time, but I am back and I'll post longer tomorrow. Thanks to everyone for hanging in there, and I hope I can recapture your regular readership.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ultima IV: Battle and Exploration

Is there any CRPG that doesn't have orcs?

Since I last wrote, I have visited the cities of Skara Brae, Trinisc, and Paws, collecting clues and hints. My to do list has already grown fairly long. I've organized it by town when I knew the town:

  • JHELOM: doors to jimmy, ask in pub of sextants
  • LORD BRITISH CASTLE: Find secret entrance to dungeons, jimmy
  • MINOC: Ask Zircon about mystic arms
  • SKARA BRAE: Return with keys to jimmy doors
  • TRINSIC: Ask of the white stone at the tap, return with dispel field spell
  • VESPER: Ask barkeep about nightshade
  • Ask at the Folley Tavern of mandrake
  • Ask Hermit Sloven near Lock Lake of white stone
  • Calumny: Ask about Mandrake
  • Lock Lake, reachable only by ship: ask Mentorian of gate travel spell

I also fought my first Ultima IV battle, against four orcs. Fortunately, I had picked up Shamino in Skara Brae, so I wasn't alone. Shamino and I survived and, just as importantly, so did two of the orcs. In this game, you allow fleeing enemies to get away, thus satisfying the dictates of honor. This battle was followed by a few fights against trolls, who attacked when I crossed their bridges. I had forgotten about that. Standing on bridges and hitting the spacebar (pass) provides nearly endless troll fights. Chests, unfortunately, are almost always trapped, and with no thief class in Ultima IV, I can't open them safely until I mix up a number of open chest spells.

Battle in Ultima IV is basically identical to Ultima III. When you switch to a battle screen, you control each of your companions individually in turn. They can attack, maneuver about, used ranged weapons, and cast spells (if you have any prepared). One new feature in Ultima IV is how the battle landscape changes depending on the terrain you were on when battle is initiated. The type of terrain can offer advantages and disadvantages. For instance, moutainous terrain, shown below, provides obstacles that prevent multiple enemies from attacking at once.

The game manual notes helpfully: "a few valiant fighters strategically placed in a narrow rocky pass can stand off an army numbered in the thousands."

With Shamino plus the game map, I figured I had enough role-playing cause to make my way to Lord British's castle. I forgot how tough it is to find your way around this game at the beginning stages. The moongates take you near towns, but Skara Brae, Jhelom, Moonglow, and Magincia are all on islands, and the moongate near Minoc is surrounded by poisonous swamp. Finally, through trial and error I found myself near Trinsic and managed to make my way up the coast to Britain and the castle.

After briefly exploring the castle, I visited the throne room, bribed Lord British for hit points, killed his jester, and looted his treasury. No! Those are the other Ultima games. Instead, I had a very civil conversation with him. He clarified that my quest involves becoming an earthly manifestation of each of the eight virutes, and clued me in (if I didn't know already) about the associations of the towns to the classes to the virtues. Once I become an Avatar, he says, I can brave the Great Stygian Abyss and view the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom. This bears repeating: the final goal of the game is not to kill an evil wizard, overthrow a tyrant, or retrieve a magic amulet, but to read a book of wisdom.

Lord British is helpful for once.

I talked in my last post about the symmetry in this game, and it manifests in a few ways that I forgot. First, the eight virtues derive from three principles of virtue--truth, love, and courage--in various combinations. Valor is pure courage, but honor is a combination of truth and courage, for instance. The Venn diagram below shows the relationships. More on humility in a second.

Each principle of courage has primary color associated with it, and the combinations of colors determine the color of the stone (which I have to find in the dungeons) associated with each virtue. Red (pure courage) is the stone of valor, and blue (pure truth) is the stone of honesty, so purple (truth + courage) must be the stone of honor.

The number eight also appears in other ways: since there are eight virtues and eight associated classes, your party can have a maximum of eight characters. Each character can reach a maximum of level 8. There are eight spell reagents, eight phases of the moon, eight types of armor to wear...oh, and probably a dozen more incarnations that I haven't spotted yet. But the symmetry is even more notable for the fact that things don't really occur in series of eight: they occur in seven plus one. What I mean by this is that for every group of eight, there's always an odd one out: something that's not like the others. The virtue of humility, for instance, does not derive from the principles of virtue; it exists outside of them. Its associated class, a shepherd, is almost worthless as an adventurer and makes you wonder why the class exists. Humilty's town, Magincia, is unique among the towns as not being really about the virtue of humility; instead, it was founded on pride (not a virtue) but then destroyed by demons. There are eight dungeons, but one of them is the Great Stygian Abyss, which is fairly unique. Most of the stones are found in dungeon altar rooms but one, of them, the white stone of spirituality, is missing. Nightshade is unique among reagents in that it can only be found in a single place, and one of the eight types of armor you have to find through a quest. This is a meticulously planned game.

Again, thanks to the Internet, I've found something I never knew about Ultima IV. The creators include NPCs named after familiar famous philosophers and writers, which was obvious. But I didn't realize until I did a little Googling that they used those individuals' actual quotes in the dialog. For instance, a philosopher in Skara Brae named "Buddha" says that, "if one speaks or acts with pure thought, happiness will follow like a shadow that never leaves," a quote actually attibuted to Buddha. A ranger named Michaelangelo says, "May thou always desire more than thou can accomplish!," a paraphrase of a real Michaelangelo quote: "Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish." The game seamlessly works these adages in to the dialog so that the casual gamer is none the wiser.

Now here's a riddle for all of you who have played Ultima IV before: when exploring Lord British's castle, I came across a mage named Joshua who asked, "If the eight philosophies of avatarhood combine into and are made from truth, love, and courage, what one thing creates and is created by all truths, all love, and all courage?" I have no idea what he's talking about, and any potential answer I could think to give returned a "that I cannot help thee with." I don't remember this guy at all from my previous Ultima IV adventures. Any idea what he's going on about? If you do, give me a hint--not the answer!

My plan right now is to make my way around the continent, visiting the towns and keeps on the Britannian mainland, fighting creatures when I encounter them, until I can either commandeer or afford a ship. I will then visit the cities and towns in order and obtain the runes and mantras for each virtue. Before my next posting, I'll see if I can afford a few reagents so I can talk about the magic system.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ultima IV: Towns and Dialog

Pressing (z)tats is one of the only ways to pause the game. I'm not obsessed with myself.

As I mentioned recently, I last played Ultima IV ten years ago. Despite this, I still remember all of the virtues, which classes are associated with which virtues, and which towns are associated with which classes. I also remember the towns' basic locations and which companion I can pick up in each one.

There is a lot I do not remember, however, such as the locations of shrines and dungeons, the mantras for each shrine, the locations of the runes needed to enter the shrines, the specific things I have to do to achieve each virtue, the layouts of the towns, and all the things I must collect before the endgame. I also have trouble distinguishing in my memory between features of Ultima IV and later Ultimas--particularly Ultima V. (Which has the magic carpet? And in which do secret doors appear as barely-perceptible breaks in walls?) This is a good balance between remembrance and forgetfulness, and I only wish I could forget this much about Baldur's Gate. Maybe by the time I reach it again, I will.

The basic gameplay of Ultima IV is nearly identical to Ultima III, featuring a top-down perspective; a "tile-based" world with different physical features like trees, grass, and water; keyboard commands to do everything from (a)ttack to (j)immy a lock to (t)alk. The (z)tats key shows you your character statistics, which are strength, dexterity, and intelligence (wisdom was apparently jettisoned after Ultima III, as there is no longer a distinction between priest and mage spells). I was wrong in my last posting that my character starts with no equipment: I have an axe and a suit of leather armor. Ultima IV continues Ultima III's conventions of experience, levels, and magic points. As a fighter, I have none of the latter.

Ultima IV: Stats of the Avatar

Since I have begun the game on an island, there isn't much to do but enter the nearby city, see what I can figure out, and hopefully buy some equipment. This is the city of Jhelom, home to fighters; the game starts you near the city that exemplifies the character class you chose.

I wander through the streets and begin my first dialogs with NPCs. This is where Ultima IV really stands out. In Ultima II and Ultima III, you could talk to dozens of NPCs but they only had one thing to say, like "DIG FOR EXOTICS" and "KILL MINAX WITH THE QUICKSWORD!" Just as often they'd say something useless like "UGH, ME TOUGH" and "PSST, WANT TO BUY A WATCH?" In Ultima IV, by contrast, NPCs have lots more to say, and almost all of it is useful. Furthermore, the way in which you communicate with NPCs is completely unique: you type the keywords you want to talk about. (Aside from Ultimas IV-VI, I know no other game that has this interface.)

My first conversation occurs a little way along the main street of Jhelom. I (t)alk to a fighter walking by, and the game tells me "you meet a valiant warrior. He says: I am Slithe," and then gives me a command prompt at which I may type key words to further our conversation. As I remember from previous experiences playing the game, NAME, HEALTH, and JOB are the three words that nearly everyone responds to. (I remember that Ultima VII has a bit of fun with this by staging a play that suggests these are the only words the Avatar ever spoke.) This is how my conversation with Slithe proceeds:

  • HEALTH: "Only minor wounds!"
  • JOB: "I fight battles!"
  • BATTLES: "True valor is seen not in the force of arms, but in the force of will! Art thou valiant?"
  • YES: "Then never flee unless the need is dire!"

A few other tries at conversation elicit the response, "That I cannot help thee with," so I end with a BYE. Granted, not the most verbose of conversations in a CRPG, but already he's given me more information than an entire town in Ultima III, and as much as almost all NPCs combined in Wizardry or The Bard's Tale. Most important, I've learned something about how to achieve the "valor" part of my avatarhood: never flee from battle.

As you can see, the NPC's own responses help determine what keywords to use. Here's another:

"You meet a ranger with a far away look."
  • NAME: "I am Luke."
  • HEALTH: "Quite well."
  • JOB: "I seek the inner light!"
  • LIGHT: "I come from Skara Brae and am on my way to Yew. Hast thou been to Skara Brae?"
  • NO: "'Tis a spiritual city!"
  • YEW: "'Tis a city based on the virtue of justice!"

Now, if I didn't already know these things, this conversation would be quite helpful. In subsequent conversations, I learn of a red stone in the dungeon Destard, that I'll need to use that stone in an altar room to get "the third part of a key," and that I should stand my ground against non-evil creatures but try not to kill them. Throughout these conversations, there are a few chances to display or not display certain virtues. For instance, an enigmatic fighter named X asks me if I am the avatar. Since I am not, yet, I must say "no" or risk a blow to my honesty. Another character asks if I am "the most valiant of souls." To say "yes" would show a lack of humility.

Dialog is one of the most important features of Ultima IV.

Although most of the conversations in Ultima IV occur via prompts that you get from dialog, occasionally one character will tell you to ask another about a subject that you wouldn't have normally thought to ask about. For instance, at one point I meet a fighter named Hrothgar who tells me that another character named Aesop knows the mantra of valor. You would normally never get this from Aesop, a timid man hiding in the woods who questions his own bravery, but having been forewarned, you can mention MANTRA to him and find out that the mantra of Valor is "RA" and the shrine is on the next isle.

(One of the great things about playing Ultima IV with access to the Internet is I can find where some of these names come from. Aesop is obvious, but it turns out Hrothgar is an allusion to Beowulf (there's also a Hrothgar in Icewind Dale, I seem to recall). A fighter named Timrod could either be a play on the biblical Nimrod or an homage to American poet Henry Timrod. An essay written by the latter contains the line, referring to a man who has internalized his nation's character: "It is of no consequence, in his case, into what century, or what ultima thule, he may stray; he will still cary with him those characteristics which he imbibed from the national influences around him." A WikiPedia lookup on "ultima thule" reveals that it was a name used in medieval geographies for "any distant place located beyond the borders of the known world." Mind blown. )

For years, I have remembered Ultima IV's dialog system as a pinnacle of CRPG accomplishment, so I admit with some embarrassment that it doesn't quite live up to my memories. It's not in any way "bad," just not as good as I recalled. NPCs respond to such a limited selection of keywords that it really wouldn't have hurt the game if it had just given you those keywords (as games like Morrowind and Quest for Glory do). Moreover, typing words isn't quite the same thing as having dialog options, and Ultima IV doesn't really give you the latter. Except the ability to say "yes" or "no" to certain questions, you cannot have entire role-playing-driven conversations with NPCs the way you can in Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, or Neverwinter Nights. Nonetheless, this dialog system is very advanced for its time and makes the game a lot more interesting than any other CRPG of the era. You learn scads about the game world and your quest from your conversations.

My exploration of Jhelom is fairly swift. There are two people I cannot talk to because they're stuck behind locked doors--I'll have to get some keys to (j)immy them first. Presumably one of them is Geoffrey, who would join me if I wasn't already a fighter, as I don't see him anywhere else. With nothing left to do in town, I make my way out of the city. I'm in the process of wondering if I'm going to need to wait for a pirate ship to get off this island when suddenly a moongate (how could I have forgotten about those?) appears. I step in and find myself on another island, next to the city of Skara Brae. I still haven't had to fight anything yet. I suspect that's coming up.

Ultima IV: Character Creation

She doesn't look all that ancient to me.

If I have any "regular readers," I apologize to you all for my erratic publication schedule. My job involves occasional unexpected business travel, and this month has been particularly heavy. What I need to do is start writing a bunch of postings when I have the time and then publish them at a steadier pace.

In my last posting, I started talking about character creation in Ultima IV and how unique it is, and then I got so wrapped up in the back story and manuals that I ended the piece before actually describing character creation. Let's look at that now. In the introduction, after reading the book of history, you stumble into a renaissance fair, where your ankh cross gains you free admission. You wander into a gypsy's wagon where she begins a kind of tarot card game involving the eight virtues.

As we'll discover, there is wonderful symmetry in Ultima IV. There are eight virtues of the Avatar, and eight character classes that exemplify those eight virtues. Eight towns serve as home to the eight classes, nearby which are eight shrines in which you must chant eight mantras after using eight runes. Each virtue, meanwhile, has an evil opposite which (usually) serves as the name of a dungeon. In the eight dungeons you find eight stones of eight colors.

The game begins with identifying the virtue and, hence, the class, with which you most closely associate. It does this by having the gypsy woman pose a series of hypothetical questions in which you must choose between two virtues. The first question might pit honesty against honor, for instance. Say you choose honor. The next question might give you spirituality and sacrifice. You choose sacrifice. At some point, you'll then have to choose between sacrifice and honor. Hence, you bracket your way to your ultimate guiding virtue and, consequently, your class.

In confess that in past Ultima IV games, I engineered my way into a paladin class by always choosing "honor," regardless of how I actually felt. (Paladins are arguably the best Ultima IV characters--strong fighters who can use almost any equipment but are able to cast spells, too.) This time around, I resolved to answer the questions based on my own moral beliefs regardless of the final outcome.

"Thou has been prohibited by thy absent Lord from joining thy friends in a close pitched battle. Dost though A) refrain, so thou may Honestly claim obedience, or B) show Valor, and aid thy comrades, knwoing thou may deny it later?" No struggle with this one. No arbitrary command from some absentee boss is going to keep me from helping my friends in a fight. I choose valor, and kiss goodbye to the mage class.

"As one of the King's Guard, thy Captain has asked that one amongst you visit a hospital to cheer the children with tales of thy valiant deeds. Dost though A) Show thy Compassion and play the braggart, or B) Humbly let another go?" I'm not sure this is a fair test of compassion, since presumably one of my comrades would entertain the children as well as I. I don't particularly like talking about myself, though, and I like children even less, so I go with humility. I will not be a bard.

"Thou hast sworn to do thy Lord's bidding in all. He covets a piece of land and orders the owner removed. Dost thou A) serve Justice refusing to act, thus being disgraced, or B) Honor thine oath and unfairly evict the landowners?" My Lord's a jerk, and I was an idiot for swearing an oath to a jerk. No need to compound the error. I go with justice and, regrettably, chaotic-good my way out of a paladin assignment.

"Thou hast spent thy life in charitable and righteous work. Thine uncle the innkeeper lies ill and asks you to take over his tavern. Dost thou A) Sacrifice thy life of purity to aid thy kin, or B) decline & follow thy spirit's call?" I'm never terribly moved by the idea of familial obligations in real life, so it's B). The chance to be a tinker is behind me.

"Although a teacher of music, thou art a skillful wrestler. Thou hast been asked to fight in a local championship. Dost thou A) accept the invitation and Valiantly fight to win, or B) Humbly decline knowing thou art sure to win?" The choice of B) doesn't sound like humility in this case; it sounds like arrogance. How would I know that I'm sure to win? In any event, humility is a nice virtue, but I don't think it should mean that I should avoid winning anything. I wave farewell to the life of a shepherd and choose valor.

A realistically difficult choice.

"Thou dost believe that virtue resides in all people. Thou dost see a rogue steal from thy Lord. Dost thou A) call him to Justice, or B) personally try to sway him back to the Spritual path of good?" Oooh. Really tough call. This is actually a metaphor for a scenario I faced recently. It depends a lot on the likely punishment, but in my case I felt that the punishment was worse than the original crime, so I chose B). I'll do that here, too, even though it means turning my taillights to druidship.

"A local bully pushes for a fight. Dost thou A) Valiantly trounce the rogue, or B) Decline, knowing in thy Spirit that no lasting good will come of it?" "No lasting good?" What about this bully learning his lesson and not picking on other people? Nothing I hate worse than a bully. It's A), no question, which means I reject the path of a ranger and become a standard, run-of-the-mill, no-magic-using fighter instead.

In some ways, this works out fairly well. You see, during Ultima IV I will pick up seven companions--one of each class--to round out my party. There are eight potential NPCs who will join your party, but you don't get to recruit the one who belongs to the same class that you do. Dupre the paladin, Shamino the ranger, and Iolo the bard are three of your most memorable companions from later games in the series, whereas Geoffrey the fighter turns out to be a bit of a wet rag. Thus, I face no great sadness that Geoffrey won't be able to join me here.

Back to the game. Having made my choice, the game informs me that I experience a "moment of intense, wrenching vertigo" while the gypsy advises me to "seek the counsel of thy sovereign."

I awake in a forest, on an island, outside a city. I have no equipment, but somewhere along the line I picked up 200 pieces of gold and 300 meals. Two moons float overhead, letting me know in no uncertain terms that I am no longer on earth. After checking my iPhone and finding no service, I steel myself and head for the nearby city to see what's up.