Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ultima V: Starting Out

Lord British's castle doesn't just have Britain next door; it's surrounded by three other towns!
As a couple of you pointed out in the comments to yesterday's posting, Ultima V is quite difficult in the opening stages. Shamino and Iolo summon the Avatar to help find Lord British and/or deal with Blackthorn. But after the initial arrival, there is no particular clue about where to go next. I could head off in any direction. And, as I've found, no matter what direction I choose, difficult encounters await along the way.

There are eight major cities in Britannia and a smattering of hamlets and villages. I assume I'm going to have to visit them all eventually, but the Avatar wouldn't know that, and I decided to play it straight. For all my character knows, Lord British has already returned, or at least has sent word. It's not like we have cell phones in Britannia. Thus, the first place to check things out would be Lord British's castle.

If you camp and set Iolo as the watch, he plays a little tune while you sleep. Unfortunately, the watch doesn't gain any hit points from the rest.
I played it smart this time and traveled only during the day, camping at night. This healed Shamino's wounds, which came in handy when we were beset by a large party of headless.

We won, but at significant hit point losses. Already, this game seems a lot more difficult than IV, where combat was fairly easy and scaled to the level. Don't get me wrong--I like difficulty. I would also point out that enemy treasure chests--which are usually trapped--hold more than gold. I've found weapons, armor, food, gems, and keys in them as well.

And the bridge trolls are back! Every time you cross a bridge, there's a chance you will disturb one or more trolls under it. They give you a chance to pay a fee to cross, but what kind of adventurer does that?

My trek to Lord British's castle was hampered by my assumption as to my initial starting location. I have no idea why, but I assumed Iolo's hut was somewhere in the left-center of the continent, roughly south of Minoc. It turns out it's more in the western part, south of Yew. What I took for the shores of Loch Lake last night was actually the western sea. Ultimately, I figured it out and made my way to the castle, but by the time I reached it, each character only had 10-17 hit points. Iolo had been poisoned by a trap, but fortunately the game starts you off with enough reagents to mix a few spells, and I was able to cure him with an AN NOX.

I explored as much of Lord British's castle as I could, talking to each character. Dialogue is unchanged from Ultima IV, which means I love it. Here are a couple of conversations with key characters.

  • You see a young girl. "I am called Treanna. What is thy name?"
  • INVICTUS: "A pleasure!"
  • JOB: "I am the stable girl."
  • STABLE: "Lord British's stables are home to many of the finest breeds in the land."
  • BRITISH: "Alas, he is no longer with us."
  • BREEDS: "We have prime examples of most of the major breeds. What's thy favorite breed?"
  • PAINT?: Never heard of that one, must be one of Blackthorn's new creations!"
(At this point, I checked out the manual, which actually mentions a number of breeds of horses, noting "most stables deal in strong plough horses, rugged mountain horses, swift steppes horses, and a few even have Valorian steeds, which are most excellent war horses.")

  • PLOUGH: "Well, they're well enough I suppose, but they hath not any true spirit!"
  • VALORIAN: "Hey, mine too! Ever heard of a talking horse?"
  • YES: "What was its name?"
  • SMITH: "That's it! I have heard it lives in Iolo's barn, by his hut in the deep forest!"

I remembered Smith from Ultima IV, when he told me nothing useful. I didn't think to check around Iolo's hut for him before I went wandering out. I'll have to remember to check in on him. Maybe he'll say something interesting this time.

Chuckles was dancing about the foyer, but didn't have anything to say but nonsense. Margaret, the upper kitchen chef, thinks Lord British is dead. Her daughter, Desiree, told me about Lord Stuart the Hungry, who travels around Britannia and eats until the castles evict him; apparently, he's working on a magic spell to create food (which of course I should ask him about if I encounter him).

The throne room...

...was distressingly empty. There were several locked doors I couldn't open because I ran out of keys. There were a couple of magic doors that I don't quite yet know how to pass, including one in the Royal Prison, behind which a man named Drudgeworth insisted he "didn't kill her" and that Chuckles had him locked up.

On the roof, I encountered a guard who threw me off:

I will have to come back one of these days.

In the basement, I encountered a shifty-eyed man named Saduj sleeping at the end of a maze of barrels. I waited for him to wake up and spoke to him. He insisted he was the gardener, but when I pressed him, he asked whether I was with "the Oppression," but quickly claimed that he wasn't when I said "no." Odd. All in all, an unproductive visit to the castle.

Next to the Castle were three little towns named East, West, and North Brittany, along with the city of Britain. I figured I'd explore each and see what I could find out. I also had some troll spoils to sell. There were a lot of characters and shops in each town. Here are the more interesting things I discovered through conversation:

  • Master Hawkins the shipwright has misplaced the plans for the HMS Cape, the fastest ship ever designed. One of his employees, Sir Adam the Torch, has discovered a way using gunpowder, sulfurous ash, and mandrake, to make ships go faster.
  • Thentis, a farmer, questioning whether I liked Blackthorn's new laws, let a hint slip about "the Resistance" but wouldn't give me any more. Terrance in Britain also mentioned something about the Resistance and said I should ask the owner of the Arms of Justice. I assume that's in Yew.
  • An adventurer named Grayson in Britain told me that the Codex is now guarded by a pair of winged stone guardians and that you have to be on a sacred quest to pass them and view the codex. Getting a sacred quest means meditating at the shrines of virtue with the mantra. The mantra of compassion is MU.
  • I visited Iolo's bows in Britain, where I thought I might get a discount, considering--you know--Iolo is part of my party. But nothing doing. His wife, Gwenno, though, was happy to join me.
  • In West Brittany, I met someone who deserved a slap, but the Avatar doesn't do such things:

The character's name is Christopher, and I note that the author of Times of Lore is Chris Roberts.

  • Eb, a busboy in Britain, who knows about fine glassware, told me to ask Malik in Moonglow about glass swords.
  • Annon, a wizard of the Great Council, said that the Council used eight Words of Power to seal the eight dungeons. Blackthorn now wants to unlock the dungeons and let the evils within spring forth, so he's been hunting down council members. The Dungeon Despise can be unlocked with the word VILIS.

None of that left me with much for the moment, so I need to think about my next step. The game manual has a journal from one of Lord British's companions that describes, in significant detail, the location where they descended into the underworld, and I think the Avatar would try to explore this location for clues next.

I'll also note before I close that the runic alphabet, laid out in Ultima IV, is used to a much greater extent in this game. Many of the key words in conversation are rendered in the alphabet's code, and in one town, I found an entire graveyard with headstones in runic. I wasn't about to translate all of them.

"Tried to fly did poor young Tim. Fatal choice for a whim."

The game really is a lot of fun, and I wish I had a good solid block of time to devote to it, but I'm stealing 15 minutes here, 20 there, from my crushing schedule. I'm going to work hard this week to ensure I have a nice long chunk of playing time this weekend.


  1. Good to see you've found a game that's genuinely enjoyable, the last few seemed a bit under-par.

  2. As I've mentioned before, first time I played Ultima IV I was not able to finish it since I didn't know that thw word "infinity" was the word you were supposed to say to The Codex. Turns out that Smith the talking horse was supposed to give you that clue. After having bad feelings about this for 20+ years I now feel much better after learning that.

    As for the runes, I highly recommend downloading the runeless font from

  3. My recollection is that Smith doesn't tell you jack. Where did you see he was supposed to give you "Infinity"?

    You get the word by piecing together the letters you see after you gain an eighth at each shrine. In the standard order of the virtues (honesty, compassion, valor, etc.), they spell out INFINITY.

  4. I don't remember where I read it, but it is explained on the Ultima wiki:

    "In the years which followed the hero's ascension to Avatar, Smith came to dwell in the Deep Forest, and could be found grazing near the hut which Iolo had established there in his exile under Blackthorn's regime. Should the hero speak to him upon their return, the horse would recall that he had previously forgotten to impart a crucial piece of information during their first meeting, and would inform the champion that the "answer" was "Infinity." This knowledge of the ultimate axiom of Britannian virtue had previously been vital to the hero's final trial within the Abyss, and while its truth had been foreshadowed in visions granted by the Shrines of Virtue, no soul at the time of the Stranger's quest toward enlightenment had appeared to have full comprehension of it, save, apparently for Smith. "

  5. My understanding is that in Ultima IV Smith was supposed to give you the axiom of infinity but did not due to a bug. In subsequent Ultimas he becomes something of a running joke; in each game he gives you a piece of information that would have been critically useful in the *previous* game.

  6. Yes, Smith always tells you how to win the previous game. He's missing from Ultima 9, though.

    They did have a plan for him; the in-game fiction states that "all" horses are dead in Britannia, and apparently you can find his corpse swinging from a tree in Paws... But a prisoner in Wrong will channel Smith's spirit and tell you how to win Ultima 8.

    Unfortunately, whatever they had intended for Smith didn't make it into the finished game, or any of the patches... it was a BIT morbid, but it wouldn't have been the worst thing about that game.

    I remember the Blogging Ultima fellow (Ophidian Dragon) found that Ultima V was VERY hard as well. In particular, you only get 30HP per level of experience instead of 100HP, which makes fights very hard. Be sure to save back-ups of your files.

  7. I would highly recommend NOT following Lord British's course into the Underworld this early in your journey. You have been warned.

  8. Ahh U-V, one of my not-favourite ultimas.

  9. I agree with Anonymous -- I wouldn't try going down there even with hintbooks & all that until I was pretty far along in the game. I can pretty much guarantee that at least one Underworld monster is going to end up on your all-time most-hated list in a hurry...

  10. I was playing U5 yesterday and found myself running from combat a lot. Is there any penalty in U5 for running away like there was in U4?

  11. No penalty for running from combat in Ultima V. You've already proven your valor, but even the most valorous are permitted to make strategic retreats.

  12. Sure there is a Penalty : Karma . Karma determines how much exp you Loose when dying. Alt+k it is i think

    1. But, wouldn't a positive Karma mean that you GAIN XP upon death? Hmm... come to think of it, I think Near Death Experiences SHOULD give some XPs.

  13. One piece of advice that will save you some time and lots of grief:
    When you find out how you can use certain objects to teleport, make sure you bring some with you when you head down to the Underworld to find the items needed to win the game.
    Getting _into_ the Underworld is easier than getting out, and I had to resort to suicide once, which meant losing XP and levels. :-(
    I never made it to lvl 8 before completing the game due to this.

  14. I think the NES port of Ultima V did not have horses, so the documentation was written to state that the horses had mostly died.

    If technical limitations take out certain things (like horses, torches, etc) I think it's probably better if the documentation just doesn't mention it at all.

  15. I played the Ultimas with a friend on his C64 during summer (in Italy schools are closed from June to mid September).
    We liked U5 very much but we had little time to play and school started when we were near the end. It was the last summer we played together.
    I still have the game somewhere in my parents house, but I never played again.
    PS we had already won U3 but we couldn't find U4 anywhere in my town!

  16. I wonder if Irene has swept away Mr Addict?

  17. The funny thing is that "Irene" is also my wife's name.

    Irene is enjoying her own hurricane back on the east coast while Mr. Addict is sitting in his hotel room in Idaho. I was supposed to go home for the weekend, but I need to be in Arizona next week, and I didn't want to take the chance I wouldn't be able to fly out on Sunday. The good news for all of you is that I should be able to bang out a few entries between now and Sunday.

  18. I remembering "attack"ing Chris in his sleep for the horrendous creation he hath wrought. He was instantaneously killed. Strangely satisfying but it set the guards upon me. However, since the guards were all on Blackthorn's payroll and he's obviously the villain, this makes murdering Chris all the more just if the guards were going to send me to jail for this "crime".

  19. I've been playing U5 for the last month or so. It is far more difficult in the beginning than Ultima IV. I've come the the conclusion that you should NOT steal crops from Iolo's Hut in the beginning. The hit to your Karma isn't worth it as when you die (something I did alot in the beginning) you lose experience.


  20. Just started on Ultima 5-- and I do not think I've been so tempted to throw a game out the window. I've managed to explore a number of towns, but I die constantly-- with an experience hit each time-- and I struggle to have any characters not level one. Death in this game might as well be final because I haven't managed to scrape together enough gold from the meager treasure chests to ever afford to resurrect someone. I've slowly been able to arm my party, but this initial stage is far far out of balance.

    Since travel overland is so deadly, it can be quite a challenge to stock up on reagents/etc. since towns by and large are smaller than in U4 and with fewer shops. There was someplace to buy food (even if over-priced) in every town in U4, for example, but that is not the case here. And taking a run down to Paws to pick up some grub frequently ends up with whole party death.


    1. Playing Ultima V straight is playing mediumcore mode, where hardcore is 'if you die, you die' and softcore is 'when you die, reload'

      A number of CRPGs Chet has reviewed would be amusing exercises in masochism to play hardcore. U5 might be among them.

    2. I'm just resigned to working out the puzzles and a few of the fetch quests with a level one party and hope I do not need to do some dungeon diving soon!

      On the bright side, I'm getting better weapons and armor (though strength is too low to use much of the latter) and I was able to snag the magic carpet, so progress is being made. At least with the carpet I can explore the rest of the towns/lighthouses/etc., which is what I am working on now. No way to get to the Isle of the Avatar though that I can find without a ship, but I have not explored that side thoroughly.

    3. And for the record-- I never save scum. If the party dies, I pick up and work from where I was.

  21. I see what you mean by Blogger eating comments... I am slowly getting through your archive blog it has been great fun! I remember playing this game and finishing it. One of the memorable items is the runic language, I got to the point where I actually learned to read the language as if it was English, this helped play future games too if I remember correctly. Did you play a game enough to learn a (essentially pointless) skill like this? (sadly going through the runic sentence I seem to have lost ability to read the runic, guess its true don't use it you lose it!)

    1. I was pretty much there. I always had trouble with the runes that stand for two letters, particularly since the rune for "TH" looks very similar to "H" and "ST" looks similar to "D."

  22. Combat in the beginning is unfairly harsh, although with the only consequence some lost time and experience, it doesn't hurt the early game. Most notably, monsters don't drop chests or gold. They're only worth is experience. Only the Avatar gains experience, and thus levels.

    Levels raise HP, and correspond directly to the level spells available. Reagents are required for most spells, but since there's no steady income, keeping a steady supply makes spell casting restrictive. Oh, and only the Avatar can use spells, by equipping a spellbook and using it. Equipping, say Maria, with a spellbook is possible, but there's no direct control over her actions to command her to use it.

    No bridge trolls exist.

    Dialogue is not nearly as robust. There are no horses in the game, as one NPC explains, because of the dark times most peasants have eaten them all.

    Locations are not nearly as large, with much fewer NPCs. British Castle and Britain combined have 14 and 2 shops. There's no Brittany, although Annon is in a lone house to the east of Britain.

    The runic alphabet was completely removed.

    1. If monsters don't drop gold, how do you get it? Just find it?

    2. Yes, it's either on the ground (either in dungeons or behind locked doors) as a one time pickup, or you take one time pickups of equipment and sell it off. You start the game off with enough gold (1.200) to buy everything necessary to complete the game, but there's the very real potential to run out if you're meandering about or purchasing costly scrolls.

  23. Re the "gardener" you met in the bowels of LB's castle: you might have figured out the significance of his name on a later visit, but if not, what is "Saduj" in reverse?

  24. Ahh, early game play.
    I remember leaving Iolo's hut then looking at the cloth map and wondering where I was.

    Then, you get a taste of combat. My sword or dagger or bow and arrow keep missing the skeleton. C'mon. Hit 'em, already!

    Yes, my character died early and often. And, yes, it was frustrating. But, it was ultimately a good thing. It elevated the stakes of combat. You were invested, even if it was merely risk avoidance.

    The other thing it did was send you to LB's castle. One of the few places in U5 that a novice player could feel safe in.

    Lastly, the runic alphabet and detailed conversations -- the Book of Lore was dog-eared and -- what's this -- I need to keep a notebook handy. What kind of game is this?


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