Monday, September 5, 2011

Ultima V: Shards, Shadowlords, and the Underworld

You've ruined my last visit to Britannia's towns, Astaroth!

Usually, my CRPG addiction is manageable, but yesterday I utterly succumbed. I played Ultima V from sunup to way past sundown, logging more hours in a single day than I had played in the entirety up to this point. I didn't win, but either I'm very close or insanely far away--more on this at the end.

The day was taken up by two tasks: first, a systematic exploration of the surface of Britannia, in which I entered every town and building, generally for the second time, and asked every person I could about the Shadowlords and Lord British's scepter. This bore fruit, but it was tedious. The second task was to explore each of the seven dungeons (if there's a dungeon that's the antithesis of humility, I can't find it) and the parts of the Underworld beneath them.

Although these tasks were interspersed with each other, let me describe it in logical order. First, my discussions with NPCs led to some revelations about the Shadowlords and their associated Shards of Cowardice, Falsehood, and Hate. It seems that the shards are actually the broken pieces of Mondain's gem, which I had to destroy in the first Ultima game. I got this from a guy named Sutek on an island I had previously overlooked.

As soon as he said this, I remembered this facet of the game from my previous experience with it, more than 15 years ago, but I had completely forgotten about it until now.

But why did the Shadowlords so recently appear? Well, it turns out that a ship and its crew got sucked into a whirpool and deposited in the Underworld, where they found the shards. They were so evil that they drove the ship's captain, Johne, to kill his three companions. The three Shadowlords sprang "from their blood"--one suspects this is a fanciful way of saying that the shards possessed the corpses of the three murdered crewmembers. I got all this from Johne himself, whom I found living in the remains of his ship beneath the dungeon Despise.

This raises a host of questions. Was Mondain's gem sentient? Are the Shadowlords really facets of Mondain himself? That would certainly explain his hatred of Lord British. How did the Shards get into the Underworld to begin with? (My favorite theory: Lord British gave them to some ship's captain to throw into the ocean, and he tossed them into a whirlpool, assuming they'd end up on the bottom of the sea.)

Anyway, the aforementioned Sutek went on to explain that I needed to destroy the three Shards by casting them in the Flames of Truth, Love, and Courage, which are found in the three keeps (The Lycaeum, Empath Abbey, and Serpent's Hold), but only after calling the associated Shadowlords' names and making sure they were standing on top of the flame when I destroyed the gem.

All of this, of course, first meant finding the three shards in the midst of the Underworld. This took a lot of time, first in getting to the Underworld from the surface, via the dungeons, and second in exploring the Underworld itself. The Underworld isn't like the surface; it's not a contiguous landmass. Instead, it's a series of "pockets," some of which connect to each other and some of which don't. I had some idea where to find the shards based on visions from NPCs, including detailed directions for one and specific coordinates for the other two--but this was of limited utility, since the sextant doesn't work in the Underworld, so I had to try to find the coordinates by using the dungeons' egresses as relative positions. It took a while. [Later edit: it would have taken less time, as PetrusOctavianus points out in the comments, if I'd noted the existence of a simple Level 2 spell.]

Before I get into the dungeons, I'll just mention that after talking to several characters, I found the location of the Shadowlords' surface keep, Stonegate, where they were keeping Lord British's scepter. After getting past a daemon who offered to let me pass by answering a riddle and then attacked me anyway when I got the answer right, I used my magic carpet to dodge the three Shadowlords and grab the scepter. It came in handy in the dungeons, as it dispels poison, sleep, and energy fields.

Okay, let's talk about the dungeons. They're well designed and would have been a lot more fun if I hadn't insisted on exploring them all at once in a marathon session. I technically only needed to explore three to get the shards, but to get the full experience, I traversed each one in turn (and good thing I did, or I never would have found Johne). There are seven--each named something that indicates the opposite of an associated virtue (Deceit, Despise, Destard, Wrong, Shame, Covetous, and Hythloth--yeah, okay, the last one doesn't work). Each one has a sort of "theme" attached to it. For instance, Wrong is a prison and has "cells" in the rooms; Covetous is a catacomb and is filled with undead; and Despise is more of a cave with few rooms and lots of animal enemies. These variations meant different textures, enemies, and styles to the rooms.

Some varied notes on the dungeons and dungeon exploration:

  • Each one has eight levels, but none progress directly from Level 1 to Level 8. There are rooms on upper levels only accessible from lower ones, and it's better to think of each dungeon as a unified maze rather than a series of levels.

Gems are vital to get through dungeons.

  • UUS POR and DES POR--this game's equivalent of the (Y)up and (Z)down spells from Ultima IV--are nearly worthless. They almost always failed on me. And there's no equivalent to Ultima IV's (X)it spell, meaning that I mostly had to retrace my steps from the bottom to the top.
  • There are a lot of pit traps. You have to check gems frequently or just make a habit of searching squares before going forward.

  • As in Ultima III and Ultima IV, some mysterious benefactor has erected healing fountains in many of the dungeons, which fully restore health. There are occasionally poison fountains, too.

  • There are chests in some corridors, but nothing like the respawning treasure levels in III and IV.

  • Dungeon rooms do not respawn, not even after you leave the dungeon and return. However, if you leave a room incomplete by failing to kill all of the enemies, upon return you find the room "reset" with all the original enemies and treasure in place. If I wasn't already getting rich without cheating, an easy way to cheat would be to loot each room but leave one enemy alive, leave, return, and do it again. It would also be an easy way to build experience.
  • Lord British's crown was vital. Donning it cancels all magic in the area, which means that dragons can't summon daemons, daemons can't possess you, ghosts can't turn invisible, wisps can't possess you or teleport, and gazers and reapers have no attacks. For this reason, reapers became my favorite monster in the game. With the crown active, they can't attack, they can't move, they drop loads of treasure, and they offer a lot of experience.

Reapers are sitting ducks. Sitting ducks with golden eggs.

  • The crown is a double-edged sword, though. Very often, a room will have wisps trapped behind the walls. With the crown active, they can't teleport out, and thus you can't kill them and clear the room. However, if you take the crown off, you run the very likely risk of a wisp possessing a party member--a condition that takes forever to wear off. Thus, wisps join my list of most annoying CRPG enemies of all time (I'll update it when I remember to take a screen shot).
  • The most difficult creatures I've found in the game are gargoyles. They divide like slimes every time you hit them, but their attack is far worse than slimes--far worse than most monsters in the game, actually. I lost my Avatar in the battle below and had to flee the screen.

I would note here that these "gargoyles" are clearly made of stone and actually leave piles of stone when they die. This will become important in the next game.

  • I encountered several rooms, like the one below, that had multiple dragons or daemons, who would have wiped me out if not for my rings and potions of invisibility. Invisibility is almost a game-breaker in Ultima V. Creatures utterly ignore invisible characters, even when they attack. An easy strategy is to have all characters except one flee the room, equip the last with a ring of invisibility, and then just walk around massacring things. It gets even worse, actually--if an invisible character is the only character in the room, the game seems to set all of the enemies' statuses to "critical"--one hit kills them. Fortunately, the rings disappear after a short amount of use, so you can't completely abuse them.

This room would have resulted in a party massacre if not for rings of invisibility.

  • The rooms are full of secret triggers that open up new areas. To fully explore a room and ensure that you've gotten all the triggers, you have to: 1) step on all the squares; 2) study the walls for secret doors; 3) (K)limb on any rocks; 4) (P)ush rocks, pillars, and objects; and 5) attack all walls and objects. Fortunately, it's usually clear when there's something left to discover.

To give you a sense of the dungeon rooms and the "triggers," I recorded my progress through one of the rooms below. As I enter, I need to get through it to the ladder at the bottom, and the way seems blocked. The video shows the different things I try to find the triggers, as well as several combats. When the dragon appears, my 57-hp Avatar seems on the verge of death, but I equip my ring of invisibility and am able to take him out. On the second dragon, I get sick of how long it's taking, so I send the rest of my characters out the door and kill the dragon in one hit. The treasure that one of them dropped is so plentiful there's actually a chest within the chest.

After cleaning up from the dragons, I leave, grab my party, and head back into the room, hitting the triggers to take the latter down. After that, I do a little Underworld exploration before I remember I'm still recording a video.

I found the three Shards beneath Covetous, Hythloth, and Deceit. Each took quite a bit of exploration and a lot of gems (fortunately, many of the dungeon rooms had piles of them). My grapple came in handy, but there were a lot of peaks I couldn't cross, necessitating the use of the IN POR ("blink") spell to move about.

Finding the Shard of Falsehood.

Finding the Shard of Cowardice beneath Hythloth took about an hour by itself, and I was on my last IN POR when I finally found it. Fortunately, I had capitulated and brought some of the moonstones with me, so I was able to make a gate to get out of there. From now on, poor bastards thinking they're traveling from Minoc to Britain are going to end up in the middle of a dark cave. I hope someone erects a warning sign.

Exploring the Underworld took up dozens of gems.

Once I had the three Shards, destroying them--and the Shadowlords--was fairly easy. I made a short video of it below. I had to walk up to each flame, (Y)ell the associated Shadowlord's name to make him appear, wait one turn so he would walk into the flame on his way to attack me, and then (U)se the Shard to cast it into the flame. Within a few minutes, all three Shadowlords were dead! It would feel like more of a triumph if they'd really been difficult enemies throughout the game, but frankly I was able to avoid them fairly easily.

My dungeon explorations made me rich beyond all dreams of avarice. The maximum amount of gold you can carry is 9,999, and I reached this several times. I bought magic axes and magic shields for everyone (about 22,000 gold total); bought 99 of every reagent, mixed a ton of spells, and bought 99 of each reagent again; bought five or six ships to leave scattered around Britannia; and stocked up on more than 5,000 units of food. And I still have a ton of gold left.

The message at the end of the shrine quests told me that the final dungeon is in the Underworld near the exit from Shame. I did explore Shame, and when I got out, I immediately planted a moonstone so I'd be able to travel quickly back to that part of the Underworld when I was ready for the endgame.

So how ready am I? Well, I certainly have enough equipment, reagents, and money, and I think I've done all the stuff I need to do, and gathered all the equipment I need, to hit the final dungeon. The problem is, my Avatar is only Level 6, and the other characters are only Level 5. That means I'm lacking two whole spell levels. I'm not sure how much experience I need for Level 8, but I think I needed 100 for Level 2, 200 for Level 3, 400 for Level 4, 800 for Level 5, and 1,600 for Level 6. That would suggest that Level 7 comes at 3,200 and Level 8 at 6,400. That's going to take a long, long time. I might just attempt the final dungeon now and see how hard it is.


  1. "the sextant doesn't work in the Underworld, so I had to try to find the coordinates by using the dungeons' egresses as relative positions. "

    Don't forget there is a Locate spell you can use to get the co-ordinates in the Underworld. It's level 2, I think.

    Your Avatar being only lvl 6 is probably due spreading out the XP. I tried to make my own Avatar do as many of the kills as possible, but still he ended up only lvl 7.

    I regret not "abusing" the game more myself. I thought of using the Moonstone to speed up travel, but I kept forgetting, then saving after getting stuck. I never took real advantage of the Invisibility Rings either. I must be getting old and soft...

  2. Bloody hell. Not only did I "forget" the locate spell; I'm not sure if I ever noticed it in the first place. That sure would have helped.

    That's a lesson, kids: read the manual!

  3. So you noticed the invisibility glitch... yeah, if you use the Fear spell, it has the same effect on monsters; it sets them to critical damage so they "flee".

    I did some research on the word "Hythloth" once, I think it's derived from hylotheism, which is the theory that there is no god (spirit), only matter. That makes it the opposite of Spirituality. Why Garriot didn't just make a dungeon Pride I don't know...

    I don't think you NEED to max out your characters to beat the final dungeon, but it helps.

  4. I'm looking at a "Let's Play" on the LP Archive, and the guy (Nakar) says that the Avatar is required to be at level 8 to finish the game (not sure why, but probably you need a certain spell that isn't obtainable before that). But no other characters need to be at particular levels. So it looks like you have a bit of leveling up to do.

  5. Duskfire, you don't need to be lvl 8 to finish the game. I finished it at lvl 7.
    Maybe Nakar was thinking of U4 where you indeed need to be lvl 8 to assemble a full party and enter the Abyss.

  6. Well that's a relief to know! One of these days, I will actually play some of the Ultima games.

  7. You missed something worth noting - a rather dick move on the part of the designers. Did you notice the ring of pits surrounding the scepter?

    Hint: save before you check them out.

    1. I've always had the magic carpet before trying for the scepter, so it was never a big deal.

    2. Hythloth is a Word?March 16, 2022 at 1:01 AM

      It might have been a pretty wise move, actually.

      When you get the Carpet you will be in LB's chamber. The more times you are in LB's chamber the more opportunities you have to get the item that IS crucial to winning (as opposed to finishing) the game.

      A similar line of thinking applies to awakening in LB's castle after a resurrection: since you need something(s) from there, let's make sure we put you there often.

      It reminds me of something I mentioned elsewhere: the conversation with Lord Kenneth is (to the best of my recollection) the only conversation in the game that can't be voluntarily ended. The harpsichord is critical and so the designers tried to make sure you knew how to play it, even if that meant glueing you to Lord Kenneth.

      Not so much dick moves as they are paternalistic moves.

  8. Great to see that you came to another game that really drew you in! These Ultima V posts bring back some great memories.

  9. The dick move is to require getting the magic carpet to finish the game.

    Also, the dungeon opposite of Humility is the Abyss. But that was closed by the Great Council when they brought up the Codex.

  10. I always liked to think that the shards were the broken pieces of Mondain's skull, which you as the Avatar can destroy in Ultima IV (and which I think the Addict did on his playthrough).

    I both hated and loved the Shadowlords--they were a real pain to deal with, but they helped make the world of Ultima V that much more unique. I was so excited when they made their cameo appearances at the end of Martian Dreams.

  11. The dungeons and their virtue counterparts are:

    Destard -> Valor
    Despise -> Compassion
    Deceit -> Honesty
    Shame - > Honor
    Wrong -> Justice
    Covetous -> Sacrifice
    Hythloth -> Spirituality

    Humility does not have a dungeon in Ultima IV because the city of Magincia represented "Pride".

    The Great Stygian Abyss is more a testing ground for the Avatar, and represents a challenge to the Virtues on a whole, rather than a single one. There is no Abyss in Ultima V-VII; the dungeon on Avatar Isle is typically Hythloth.

    Ultima IX has both Hythloth and the Abyss, but a last-minute change moved Hythloth to "under Magincia", one of the many sore points with fans... it would have been better if they'd just called the dungeon "Pride" instead.

  12. Oneiromancer, your explanation would actually make a lot of sense--if it wasn't contradicted by the in-game text. Still, it would be nifty if tossing Mondain's skull into the Abyss had SOMETHING to do with the emergence of the Shadowlords.

    When you think about it, every bad thing that happens to Britannia following Ultima IV is a direct consequence of what happens in Ultima IV. I hope getting an Avatar of Virtue was worth it.

  13. DGM, it may be a while before I can get back there. What happens if you fall down those pits?

  14. Yeah, I saw your screenshot that specifically stated that it was Mondain's gem, but I played Ultima IV and V before Ultima I, and so I only really had experience with the skull. Which only explains why I tended to think it was the skull instead of the gem.

    For some reason I feel that there was some consequence of destroying the skull, though...was it the Isle of Fire in the Ultima VII expansion pack? Perhaps some plot point of Ultima Underworld? Some throwaway explanation for something in Ultima IX? Probably just wishful thinking on my part.

    Anyway, the pits in Stonegate drop you to the "center of the earth" (or perhaps "world", I don't recall). I think there's the same sound that plays when you fall into a pit in a dungeon, but it lasts a lot longer, and then you see your corpse in a field of fire that fills the full screen. And then you get resurrected with all of your items, like usual.

    So it is interesting to note that as broken as the magic carpet is, it is completely necessary to beat the game.

  15. You have to wonder how they even constructed that. A pit all the way to the center of the world? Think of the geothermal uses!

  16. I generally assumed that Hythloth was the dungeon opposing Humility, and that Doom opposed Spirituality, a theory borne out in Ultima IX.

    And a tip for those wisps behind walls: polearms do very nicely to attack creatures behind walls or pillars. No need to let your crown guard down.

  17. Now that the discussing is on the emergence of the shadowlords, there is a rather good fan fiction novel "Tale of Captain Johne", which acts also as backstory for UV: Lazarus. I guess I have to read it again, as I don't remember pretty much anything about it..

    And while there, you could also check the other piece "The Fall of Lord Blackthorn"


  18. I was reading the previous posting about the combat being so-so in U5, but I feel like the main strength of the Ultima games is how they focus on exploration and discovery, rather than combat. It reminds me of the Might and Magic games where you have to travel throughout the world, piece together tons of clues and then eventually get to the main quest. Probably why those are my two favorite series.

  19. Ultima also focuses on having a really interesting world, and other cool things like the magic system that is in the next blog post

  20. Donn, thanks for the tip on the walls. I didn't think about that. Helped me with some daemons tonight, until my computer crashed and I lost everything (see today's posting).

    Fenrus, I'll read those over. They don't seem overly long.

    Steve, I agree. Ultima V doesn't get everything right, but the game world is superb.

  21. From post: "The most difficult creatures I've found in the game are gargoyles. [...] I lost my Avatar in the battle below and had to flee the screen."

    That was a tricky L8 dungeon room in Hythloth. A mistake would be to use pole-arms to blindly multiply & pre-kill some of the gargoyles within the hidden chamber, 'cos the resulting stone corpses would very likely obstruct the way out for whoever who had entered the eastern chamber via the door (which immediately disappears). My 1st attempt resulted in the avatar, Janna & the 3 remaining gargoyles permanently-trapped within their respective stone enclosures.

    I was wondering if a possible solution might be to let all of the others in the party escape the dungeon room first, then use the avatar to somehow lure the waiting gargoyles to the SE area of the room, before making the avatar exit to the spot where the party was originally standing, & then utilize pole-arms to attack the gargoyles from behind the walls.

    1. It's been a while, but if I recall correctly, you can "(K)limb" over rocks, including those left by slain gargoyles.

  22. I loved this game and it took me quite a while to play it... thoroughly enjoyable and I tried to do all the side quests. It was deep and complex and I loved the split party aspects. I remember at the time writing down conversations on 5" x 7" note cards (I had quite a pile of them that I discarded only a few years ago).

    What was great about this game, other than the depth of plot and party aspects, in my opinion, was the sense of space. It was very imaginative. This was the last Ultima game in the series that had multiple scales, i.e. the city was small within the land until you entered and buildings were small within the city until entered. It had the impact of making the world huge and mysterious. Ultima VI and beyond used all one scale (and the development team actually bragged about doing so), but it felt like a downgrade from the gradually improving games that peaked at Ultima V. I like Ultima IX, and still play it, but it is still all one scale.


    1. I'm debating whether I agree on the "sense of scale" thing. What I like better about U6 and U7 is that the same game mechanics apply no matter where you are. Anything can happen. Enemies can wander into towns and NPCs can be found in little huts and treehouses out in the wilderness. In U4 and U5 by contrast, you knew that everything out of town was something to kill.

      The game world I love the most--Morrowind--has the same single-scale, although I suppose you could argue that the separate transition into buildings and dungeons introduces multiple scales.

    2. LOL - I also loved the Morrowind world. I remember once stopping along the road and staring up at the beauty of the two moons, rapt with attention as if I was there, and indeed my imagination did kind of put me there. Another game with a huge amount of space was Might and Magic 6. The dungeons in the game (and they are plentiful) are huge and intricate. The entire Might and Magic 7 and 8 are (excellent games but) tiny by comparison. The feeling of space while planning the (MM6) game was amazing. Ultima 6 was a good game, but the one scale made it seem small, while Morrowind was one scale, but was simply so huge that I have never heard it described as small and it always felt like a huge, intricate world. It was so huge that it required a great deal of patience at times.


  23. Here's another thing you can learn from CRPGs ;)
    In polish Sutek means... nipple!
    It was so funny for me that crucial informations was delivered fron a guy with such a name :)

  24. The shards of the Gem of Immortality are also the central conceit behind Ultima Online. The premise is that at the end of Ultima I, Mondain actually seals the world of Sosaria inside of the Gem. When the person who became the Avatar shattered the Gem, each shard became the container of an alternate timeline, all of which started out the same as the original timeline except that the Avatar (and, presumably, the Gem shards) wasn't in them. This is how the lore explains why there are nearly thirty distinct versions of the game world (i.e. game servers) each with its own population, none of which have a mighty Avatar rendering adventuring as an obsolete profession.

    I don't think they ever explained how the Ultima V shards related to all of this. And yes, the idea that the Avatar was the main character in the first game is a retcon, though I'm not sure when that was decided.

  25. Noting more differences from the NES version:

    The sceptre only dispells the magic fields in the final dungeon. The guardian asks the riddle, but doesn't attack in any case. In fact, he's not actually guarding the door, so nothing prevents the party from walking right in (except the magic door).

    The dungeons are all the same, with some notable sections that are offer few rewards. They're all only four levels deep, but some twist up and down. There are no pit traps, but there are damaging tiles clearly visible. There are no secret triggers.

    Once again, the enemies don't cast magic, so the crown was useless to me. (i.e. No summoning, possessing, invisibility, or teleportation.)

    The shard location of Covetous was changed to Wrong.

    There are no gems to help map the underworld, and no spell equivalent.

    In fact, the spells were mostly useless combat spells, and only four per level.

  26. Um, doesn't the word hythloth mean pride or hubris?

    Your old comment about tossing Mondain's gem into a whirlpool is interesting. Did you ever try sailing into one? The first time I did so, I expected to resurface in Lock Lake, per U4. I got a nasty surprise...

  27. Oh, and you're right about the experience thresholds for levelling up. Incidentally, I think Serpent Isle/Silver Seed is the only numbered Ultima that allows five-figure experience and therefore levels above the eighth.

  28. I know this info probably comes 10 years (almost) too late: but if you are ever lost on any key elements of the plot like mantras, power words, shards, crown-jewels etc., you can bribe any barkeep and they will give you a hint on who to talk to and their location. At least in the C64 version.


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