Friday, August 26, 2011

Ultima V: Into the Underworld

Yes, I know it's too early for me to be here. It's called "role-playing."

The Ultima V manual has a journal kept by "Remoh" (read it backwards), the scribe to Lord British. It describes the journey that Lord British undertook to the underworld, accompanied by knights named Arinois, Meridin, Geraci, Shaana, Noin, and Roin. The journal describes how they reached the underworld by following a river east of Spiritwood and plunging down a waterfall, and it gives detailed directions of their path once they reached the first underworld cavern.

The narrative describes assorted horrors that assailed the party, generally accompanied by Lord British kicking some serious ass--something he never does in any of the other Ultima games. One by one, the knights fell until only Lord British, Shaana, and Rehom were left. Then the three Shadowlords arrived, blasted British unconscious, and hauled him away. The fates of Shaana and Rehom are unknown, as is the method by which the journal reached the surface.

The obvious thing for my Avatar, Invictus, to do would be to retrace the expedition's steps and see if he can find any clues, or even Lord British himself. I don't fancy getting stuck down there, but it'll be ages before I have a character with enough spell points to cast "gate travel," so I'll have to take my chances.

To follow the path, I first needed to buy a skiff, so I spent a little time grinding against bridge trolls until I had the 175 gold to afford it. Their loot also provided a decent supply of weapons, food, and keys. When I had about 500 gold, I bought the skiff from Hawkwind in East Brittany and stocked up on rations in Britain.

I had this idea that I could carry the skiff with me, but I guess not in this game, so I boarded it for a long trip south, around the cape, and back north to the mouth of the River Maelstrom. The skiff, I soon discovered, is only good in light coastal waters. If you try to take it into deep water, the game tells you "rough seas!" and you lose a bunch of hit points.

I stopped in Paws on the way south, where I patronized an inn owned by the enigmatic "Dr. Cat," a figure who appears in a little more detail in later games and is based on a real-life programmer. I bought some torches at the guild, but keys, at 3 for 224 gold, were too dear. An adventurer named Glinkie told me that he thought the Shrine of Spirituality was destroyed (in Ultima IV, you could only find it by entering moongates at when the moons were full). Just for the heck of it, I searched a random tree stump and found a ring of invisibility.

A mage in a field of horses was looking for Smith, and when I told him that he could find Smith at Iolo's place, he "rewarded" me by telling me that I could find a magic flying carpet in Lord British's chambers at the top of the castle (the place the guard evicted me from yesterday). I briefly considered going back and trying it, but I figure I need some more resources for that kind of caper.

Then I made the mistake of stopping in Trinsic, a walled city. The gates closed at night, and a guard demanded a 40-gold-piece tribute to Lord Blackthorn, which I refused. Then he demanded my arrest, which I also refused. That didn't work out so well for my party:

"You should have paid the fine!"

Waking up in Lord British's castle again, I vowed to be more careful in towns at night. I walked back to Trinsic, picked up my skiff, and continued south.

Ultima V has a lot more little keeps and houses to explore than its predecessor, and I soon found myself in a lighthouse called Greyhaven. A poor confused boy was studying Blackthorn's version of the eight virtues, and when I told him they wouldn't make him an Avatar, he told me to piss off. In the keep was the fugitive royal coinmaker, Sir Arbuthnot, who apparently minted the codex coin that called me to Britannia in the first place.

Named after John Arbuthnot, or Arbuthnot & Co., a mercantile bank in India?

Also living in the lighthouse was the court composer, Sir Kenneth, who taught me Britannian musical notation, which is similar to standard western musical notation except that the staff has only four lines. The notes corresponded with numbers from 1-9, and I was able to sit in front of a harpsichord and play a little bit--if you watch the video with sound, you may recognize the tune. Afterwards, I wandered around the lighthouse a bit and then went to bed. Lord British appeared in my dreams and healed everyone, which was nice of him.

At last, I made my way around the cape, up the west coast of Britannia, down the River Maelstrom. I plunged down the waterfall shown at the beginning of this screen capture and landed in the underworld, in the middle of a small lake. I ignited one of my few torches, noting that the game started me with enough sulfurous ash for about 6 "light" spells.

From here, I started following the directions in Remoh's journal. He noted landing his skiff on the western shore of the cavern and erecting a sign, which I soon found:

I'm starting to re-develop the ability to translate runes without referring to the documentation: "HEREUPON BEGAN THE QUEST OF HIS MAJESTY LORD BRITISH TO EXPLORE AND CHART THE NEW UNDERWORLD ON 11/27/137."

I continued following the directions down a couple of rivers, winning battles with sea serpents along the way, though at considerable damage. Other creatures I was able to outrun. My party started to wonder if visiting the underworld was really a good idea, given that, you know, Lord British couldn't make it.

On the southern shore of a lake, I found Lord British's party's skiff, right where the journal said they abandoned it:

"If we ever return to Britannia," says the journal, "It will not be by retracing our steps."

Beasts began attacking me. Giant rats weren't so hard:

But a group of mongbats was so large as to be ridiculous. I had to flee, probably taking a hit to my valor. I found myself having to camp a lot to heal.

I had several fights with regular bats who were as numerous but not so hard, and I dared hope I was racking up experience points (although I don't quite yet know how to level up).

At length I came to a large cavern in which almost every square was swamp, which of course poisons your characters. Poisoned characters lose 2 hit points with every action. The game started me with a reserve of AN NOX spells, but there was no point using them to cure characters who were going to just get poisoned again two steps later. I carefully made my way across the cavern, using AN NOX and MANI (healing) sparingly, and I reached the other side nearly bereft of mixed spells, reagents, and spell points.

Have I ever mentioned before how I feel about poison?

Finally, nearly out of health and resources, I came to a cavern in which I found the remnants of Lord British's party. They encountered a battle against a legion of mongbats, and only three survived.

"Today the tree of us remaining buried the valient knights Arionis, Meridin, Geraci, Noin, and Roin, here upon the underground battlefield where they fell. Tomorrow we shall seek our way back to our own world; our disastrous quest here is finished."

On the battlefield was Lord British's amulet, which I took. I have no idea what it does. When I put it on, it made some kind of icon in the middle of the character stat screen. I searched the graves and found nothing. There were no other exits from the cavern.

Just as I was about to start retracing my steps to see if I could find a way out of the underworld, an earthquake shook my characters down to their last few hit points, and I was attacked by dragons.

Aside from making devastating attacks, dragons can summon demons, who can in turn summon other demons and possess your party members. Moments later, I was resurrected in Lord British's throne room, minus 50 experience points for each character.

I now know Lord British's fate, and I still have his amulet, but I face a difficult journey to restore my experience and repair the damage to my valor caused by running away from so many mongbats and other assorted beasts. Right now, my best bet seems to be to seek out the owner of the Arms of Justice in Yew and find out news about the Resistance.

From now on, I'll highlight gameplay innovations as I continue my quest to rescue Lord British. Despite the limited amount of time I have to play it, I'm really enjoying this game.


  1. Interesting that you ignored everyone's advice and went straight to the underworld.

    How are you going to deal with games like Oblivion where you will miss 90% of the game if you actually roleplay it and do the main quest first?

  2. I didn't mean to suggest that this is a universal strategy for me; it's just how I decided to approach this particular game. In any event, I don't think Oblivion is a good example, since once you win the main quest, you can still play for hours and solve the other quests. Baldur's Gate is a better example.

  3. Very true: I never beat either to tell the truth. Mass Effect is another one with this problem. They put in all these tiny side missions, then spend all the roleplay scenes urging you not to waste time. *headdesk, headdesk*

    Also: First post!

  4. The most memorable part of this game for me was following the footsteps of Lord British into The Underworld, using the journal as a guide, and then finding the graves at the end.
    But silly bunt that I am, I forgot to bring a moonstone to get me back. Otherwise I was well prepared, but actually never reached lvl 8 before completing the game. And none of my companions exceeded lvl 5.

    Does Shaana appear in any of the Underworld games? The name, unlike those of the others of Lord British' party, is familiar, but I can't place it.

    BTW, I hope someone can help you with the layout, 'cause frankly I preferred the old look.

  5. The only thing I didn't like about the old template was that I couldn't adjust the width on the right column. I'll give it a few days to settle, and if it still looks bad to me, I'll revert.

  6. I liked the colours of the old design better.
    But I like that I can now post without having to type a code first.

  7. I've been spending a bit more time on U5 and explored a couple of towns but then managed to get trapped between a portcullis and a locked door in Lord British's castle just as evening turned to night and I couldn't find any secret doors. I'm playing with the midi music patch and the rune translation patch which saves me translating signs.

    I've never got very far with U5 but I've always thought it has one of the best Ultima settings with the Shadowlords, journal and failed expedition.

    I'm not too keen on many of the blogger templates. I'm using the Travel one which I think is ok -

  8. I'm impressed you actually made it all the way to the graves, before getting killed. I'm looking forward to the next update.

    Also, I'd like to echo Petruvius, and say that I prefer the old color scheme.

  9. If you want to know the origin of Sir Arbuthnot's name, you merely have to visit the Codex of Ultima Wisdom. Sir Arbuthnot was actually named after an Ultima fan named Bill Jensen, who actually minted a real codex coin for Richard Garriott after Ultima IV.

  10. The poison can be avoided by equipping swamp boots IIRC.

  11. Never saw any swamp boots, but the magic carpet works too.

  12. I think swamp boots were in a later Ultima, and a cop-out. NBC suits are the modern equivalent and even those aren't readily available. Swamp boots? Really?

    Going straight to the the Underworld is one reasons why Ultima V was awesome. You could do what you liked, survive, and do it again.

  13. Swamp boots are indeed in U5.

  14. You're channeling your mom, Old 333.

  15. Making it all the way to the graves is pretty impressive at a low level. I typically got smoked anytime I was in the Underworld too long even at higher levels.


  16. More console differences...

    The skiff is only sold in Serpent's Hold, it's held in inventory. It can cross any sort of waters.

    Dr. Cat doesn't make an appearance in game, but he's credited for the creation of the game in part.

    There are no keys, only a single set of lock picks for normal doors, and a skull key for magical ones. They aren't consumed with use.

    No towns were overtly controlled by Blackthorn except for his castle, and no demands for tribute were ever requested.

    Aside from the main towns, the only full town to explore is Boardermarch, while other buildings seem absent. No lighthouse.

    There's no journal in the NES manual to follow, and the dungeons to the underworld are much less detailed.

    I just noticed the dates are different, as the game begins on 2-12-1969.

    The amulet was at the bottom of Destard, but while it was in the middle of a graveyard, there was no description of the expedition, and no lore about why it was there among various scattered arms.

    I mentioned it before, but only the Avatar gains experience. I think having other characters gain levels was cut at some point as the manual has screenshots of Dupre with a lot of experience points. The character screen in-game shows 0 points, and a set level.

  17. Hythloth is a Word?March 9, 2022 at 7:40 PM

    Ah, the thrill of the first visit to the Underworld. I can remember my first time. It was actually a Friday night. I especially remember my eyes darting from the screen to the journal, making sure I properly retraced the footsteps. I also remember...being completely overmatched.


    They seemed indestructible.
    Then there's the poison.
    Then there's the darkness.
    Then there's no Mani.

    Just as for you, death was my ultimate escape from the Underworld.

    Looking back, two questions come to mind.

    One: Does the game lead/dupe newbies into going into the Underworld too early? Meaning, do people look at their hit points, think a morning star is a good enough weapon, and determine that the Journal offers more/better clues than in-game conversations -- and so, its "Off to the Underworld, I go?” Was the game designed to induce that course of action early on?

    Two: Was the Dragon/Deamon battle always the battle for everyone? If you're Level Three and don't have certain items then your fate is sealed. So, darkness soon envelops thee, and ye find yerself back at Castle Britannia with the Amulet. Again, was THAT what Richard Garriott, et al had planned: Amulet -> Dragon -> Death -> Castle? I wonder for what percentage of players was the Amulet the last crown jewel obtained, were Mongbats a mere nuisance, and that dragon an even matchup?


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.