Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ultima IV: Getting Ready for the End

See that full ankh cross between my food and gold? Guess what that means! Boo-yah!

I had hoped to brave the Stygian Abyss by now, especially since I completed my avatarhood in honesty last night. It took forever. No matter how many times I was honest with the blind herb seller, I couldn't get Hawkwind to give me the thumbs-up. Finally, made a premature trip to the Island of the Abyss so I could cast Mondain's skull into the lava. I remembered from previous games that this ups all of your virtues, and sure enough, when I got back to Lord British's castle, Hawkwind green-lighted my ascension. I am now a full avatar. I have all the other things I need to enter the Abyss: the three-part key, a magic wheel that strengthens my ship's hull, all eight companions, all the stones of virtue, the candle of love, the book of truth, the bell of courage, and the "word of power" (forgot to mention this earlier, but at some place you need a password and each of the lords of the three keeps dedicated to truth, love, and courage had part of this password. It's VERAMOCOR). What I lack are:

  • Adequate levels. Katrina is still Level 4. Some of my other characters are 5 and 6. I need to boost their experience before I take on the Abyss.
  • Good weapons and armor. The magic wand, which three of my characters can wield, costs 5000 GP. Magic plate costs 7000. I want the best equipment before I face daemons and dragons.
  • Enough spells and reagents. You can pre-mix up to 99 of each spell and store up to 99 of each reagent. Before I hit the Abyss, I want 99 cure poison spells, 99 heal spells, and 99 dispel field spells, among others, and I want a full complement of reagents. This means not only buying them but hanging out a few months in the middle of a poison swamp and a dark forest so I can pick enough mandrake and nightshade.
  • Enough food. I remember getting stuck on certain levels of the Abyss for hours. My goal is to have at least 2000 meals before I head in.
  • Adequate stats. I want to use the glowing balls to boost my character's stats to as close to the maximum (50) as possible. This means getting them to higher levels first; otherwise, the glowing balls will kill them.
To get all of these things, I've been engaging in a prolonged amount of dungeon-crawling, looking for treasure levels and rooms and welcoming combat with everything that moves. During combat, I try to let my less experienced characters make the kill. I forgot to mention this before, I think: in Ultima IV, experience is awarded to individual party members based on who actually strikes the killing blow. This means that Katrina, who only has a paltry sling, hardly ever gets any experience unless I make a special effort by having my other characters withhold attacks.
Katrina finishes off a rogue.
During all of this, I've been taking a look at some things written about Ultima IV on other parts of the web. A few items of note:
  • Ophidian Dragon, the author of Blogging Ultima played through Ultima IV in 2007. For some reason, he waited ages to get party members and seems to have played most of the game with a single character. He shares my frustration with Katrina: "I know you need all eight party members to get into the Abyss, but I am tempted to just let Katrina the Shepherd die and forget about her, because she's not worth the effort of directing her worthless icon." Ouch. He also noted the same thing I did about the location of the Skull of Mondain: "Who among us ever played Ultima IV and found that extremely suspicious little horseshoe of shoals in the middle of the ocean, and did not sail immediately therein and search?" As I do, though, he praises Ultima IV for its nonlinearity, and like me he couldn't get anything useful out of Smith the Horse. His blog is full of screen shots from the original DOS version of the game (not XU4, like I'm playing), including one of the after-meditation visions. Check it out here.
  • There's a large community of fans writing mods, updates, and remakes to all of the Ultima games at Ultima: the Reconstruction. Except the last update was more than three years ago, so maybe it's not that active any more.
  • The Literal Ultima has transcripts of what every character says in every Ultima game. Jesus. I went through and scanned them for Ultimas I-III to see what I missed. Apparently I should have bribed the tavern keepers more in Ultima I, because one tells you the entire main quest of the game! I missed Dupre's appearance in Ultima II (he's a "swashbuckler" here, not yet a paladin, apparently) on Jupiter. Anyway, I couldn't resist and looked at Joshua's transcript from Ultima IV to see if there was an answer to my question posed here; there wasn't. It also appears that Smith has absolutely nothing useful to say. Why put a talking horse in the game and give it nothing useful to say?
  • There's a nice retrospective on Ultima IV at a blog called the Black Gate, which is nominally about fantasy literature. The author, Ryan Harvey, notes the influence of BADD ("Bothered about Dungeons & Dragons"; this is an article worth reading) on the creation of Ultima IV, and what made the game so different. "Back in 1985, it was a revelation, a game that asked players to live up to a chivalric code--and considering the other games we had played, that was the most intriguing challenge of all."
I'm predicting a "won!" post by tomorrow.


  1. Before you head in to the abyss you'll need to find the 'mystic' weapons and armour. Mystic swords are the only weapons that can harm the monsters in the abyss. Mystic robes I think just give you better protection against abyss-monster attacks.

    You can find the robes in Empath Abbey and the swords in Serpent's Hold after becoming a full avatar...

  2. A friend of mine entered the Stygian Abyss with only 3 mandrake, and once you go in you can't come out again. He's still bitching about that two decades later.

  3. You can't come out again? I didn't notice that. It's a good thing I didn't need to.

    1. You can leave by casting 'X-it' - you just can't get out using the ladders. I've done it when I realized I didn't have enough 'dispels' in my inventory.

  4. I partially misremembered -- my friend was playing Ultima V, not IV. So the final dungeon there is one-way; I don't actually know about IV.

  5. VERAMOCOR. VER-AMO-COR... Veritas, Amore? Er.. Co(u)rage-ius?

    1. Pretty much. I think they're all the first three letters of the Latin words:


    2. "COR" is Latin for Heart.

    3. Cornu is latin for horn. Extended meanings include courage.

    4. Cornu doesn't mean anything like "courage" in real Latin. No way. I defy you to find a citation.

      You see the word used in that way in St. Jerome's Vulgate Old Testament, but that usage is strictly a Hebraism ("horn" = euphemism for "erection" = metonymy for "virility" = implying courage).

      The words that best correspond to "courage" in Latin are virtus, fortitudo, animus, and audacia (the precise context would dictate which one to use).

      "COR" in Ultima IV most certainly refers to Latin cor(dis), "heart", as the previous Anon said.

    5. Really late reply, but I thinkg it might be spanish: VERdad, AMOr,CORage, which translates as Truth, Love and Courage.
      I can't find any latin word starting with "Cor" that simbolizes any of the three principles

    6. I believe Richard Garriott once admitted in an interview (with a german gaming magazine) that they bungled the Latin translation for courage, thinking, since they figured "having heart" (heart=cor in Latin), or "take heart" would stand for courage (it doesn't really, but if you're inspired by Shakespeare idioms, then you might run into that sort of mistake). At any rate, doing this sort of misappropriation at least meant that people knowing their Latin would still be unable to blindly guess the passphrase. ;)

  6. I know I'm late with this (found this amazing blog just recently and reading thru it all the way from the beginning), but I know for certain that you could ask Joshua about "INFINITY" and he'd respond "Thou art wise!". Looks as if this cannot be derived from the normal conversation code (The Literal Ultima doesn't show it), but it definitely worked on the C=64 version (which I played waaaaay back in 1985...).

    1. Well, that would make sense, if true. It didn't work on the DOS version, though. I tried.

    2. After meditating for three cycles, your character gains partial Avatarhood in that virtue and sees a symbol. These must be translated using the player's reference card that came with the game: I-I-I-N-N-F-T-Y = INFINITY.

  7. I think the lords are taking revenge for what the main character is doing to them.

    Soon-to-be-Avatar: NAME
    Frasier: Well, I'm Frasier.
    Soon-to-be-Avatar: JOB
    Frasier: Er... I'm the lord of Lycaeum.
    Soon-to-be-Avatar: HEAL
    Frasier: Heal? Look, now you're not even trying. I'm fine by the way.
    Soon-to-be-Avatar: WORD
    Frasier: Y'know, I think you have a 4-letter limit or something. Enough to form some kinda expletive. I'll have you know that the word of entry is 9 letters long. And just to piss you off... "VER". So, enjoy!
    Soon-to-be-Avatar: BYE
    Frasier: Whatever.

  8. You can get out of the last dongeons (U4/U5) by dieing.
    Not a very fancy way, but it exists.

    Or U4-Specific, when the codex asks a question, answer poorly and you'll be teleported out.


  9. I cannot remember this guy Hawkwind, but isn't there a stat page showing you the actually level in the virtues (1->99) as part of a 16 digit number? Did Hawkwind refuse you although you had level 99 after being repeatetly generous with the blind reagent dealer, or wasn't it possible to max out the value to 99?

  10. OK, this is really late but a combat system that awards all the XP to the character striking the killing blow seems incredibly cruel. Especially in a game that pushes all these virtues on the player.
    Essentially all the other party members are standing around this weakened, terrified, dying foe waiting for the weakest member to stone him to death.
    It's almost Biblical in its cruelty.

    1. Wow. I never thought of it quite that way, but yeah, that's basically what's happening.

    2. It's funny because I had just had a parenting moment with one of my youngest sons. They had been playing Minecraft in a PvP match and one was spawn camping, killing his twin brother every time he respawned. The game was put to an end and I took the chance to teach the one about fair play, honor and such. I brought up this game as one that tried to teach morals so I thought I'd dig through your entries to find your thoughts on the Avatar's virtues. The I found that entry and thought, "Hmm. Maybe Ultima took a step in the right direction, but didn't think it all the way through?"
      There's still some value to be found in the virtues, though and he loved hearing about it.

  11. A friend and I were recently talking about Ultima IV, and he mentioned that the fastest way to get through the game is to play with a tiny party, as combat scales with party size and big fights take a lot of time for not a lot of benefit. There is basically no real need for the other characters. I was a bit doubtful of this and we debated it, but reading your comment about Ophidian Dragon’s play through seems to corroborate it.

    1. Yes, this is true, but U4 is not the sort of game that you want to optimize for fast play. It's the kind of game you want to ROLE-play. Plus, the larger battles are fun.

    2. Agreed. TBH, I was mostly just surprised that this was even a possibility. I haven’t played it for many years, but the thought of playing without all those other characters seems almost criminal.

  12. I've never really understood all the hate Katrina gets. Pick her up early, get her a sling or some flaming oils ASAP, and she'll level up at a rate on par with other non-mage characters. I usually pick up Mariah last because she can just level up by casting 'tremor' over and over again.

    1. Of course you understand it. As a non-spellcaster who can't use any magic weapons, you have to deliberately have other characters NOT attack so that she'll get any experience at all. Going out of your way to "pick her up early"--a strategy that depends on having played the game before, in any event--shows that you recognize that she poses a problem that you have to control for.


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