Friday, March 7, 2014

Ultima VI: Treasure Hunt

X marks the spot.

As we closed the last post, I had just found a guy--Homer--who could tell me about Captain Hawkins, but he required me to join the Thieves' Guild first. The Thieves' Guild, in turn, required that I "retire" an existing member by stealing her belt or taking it off her dead body. When I returned to her house in the sewers, I found her asleep in bed, and I decided to try out the "Pickpocket" spell that I had recently purchased.

Although it seems a bit overkill to steal a belt.

I'm glad I went this route. Aside from being slightly more virtuous, it also probably saved me from certain death, since it turned out Phoenix was dual-wielding glass swords. These weapons do 255 points of damage in one hit, but they immediately break. I have a couple that I've found in various places, and I will doubtless carry them to the end of the game, so intent on saving them for that one ultimate enemy that I never use them at all.

With the belt in my possession, I returned to Buccaneer's Den, joined the Guild, and resumed my conversation with Homer. He related that after Captain Hawkins was killed by his crew and buried, his remaining nine pirates tore the map to his treasure into nine pieces. Homer said he had one, and he gave me leads for five more:

  • A pirate named Hawknose went to kill Sin'Vraal. Since Sin'Vraal is still alive, he must have failed.
  • Sandy, the ship's cook, went to Trinsic. I met him there previously but didn't know he was a pirate.
  • Ybarra went looking for treasure in the dungeon Shame.
  • Another unnamed pirate died in a shipwreck.
  • A pirate whose name Homer forget settled in Jhelom. He has a hook for a hand. Thanks to my notetaking, I know this is Heftimus McPry, who begs outside the tavern.

That left three pieces of the map that Homer didn't know about. I figured I'd have to re-visit all the NPCs in the game (prioritizing sailors and suspicious characters) asking about the MAP. However, it turned out that Sandy didn't have a map himself but knew of four other people who did have one:

  • A pirate in Serpent's Hold who I'd already met. Her name was Morchella.
  • A hermit on Dagger Isle.
  • Nathaniel Moorehead, retired near Empath Abbey.
  • The Mayor of Trinsic himself, who used to be a pirate named Alastor Gordon.

But I'm getting ahead of myself because I had to go through a lot of trouble to get those names from Sandy, and I found Hawknose's piece first. You may recall that I had some business to settle with Budo, the Guildmaster, and I took care of it before I warped out of town with my Orb of Moons.

Let's just say accidents can happen to anyone--even the Thieves' Guildmaster.

Something appeals to me about this kind of quest. Nine pieces, scattered to the far corners of the world. Retrieving some involved dungeon-delving, others required me to follow clues, and still others were just a matter of persuasion. I like that they didn't all take the same amount of time, or require the same effort. Games get boring when the gameplay just repeats that way. The rune quests had a similar dynamic.

Recovering all nine pieces--really just eight, since Homer had one--took about 6 hours of gameplay. I'm going to summarize the highlights and get to the end, saving a detailed description of dungeons and combat for my next post. 

The first piece had been owned by Hawknose, and he had gone off to kill Sin'Vraal. I thougth Sin'Vraal might have some idea what had happened to him, and I was right. I love it when that happens.

To find the pieces, I had to explore multiple levels of a giant ant mound not too far from Sin'Vraal's hut. The giant ants weren't very difficult foes, although they did have a tendency to respawn quickly and swarm my party. The piece of the map was on Hawknose's body on the lowest level of the "dungeon."

The room where the ants store all of their "treasure."

At one point, I found a solitary giant ant sitting on a pedestal, and I figured it must be the queen. For role-playing reasons, I decided not to kill it. The ants weren't "evil" after all, and for all I knew they played a vital role in the area's ecology.

Sandy, the former cook who moved to Trinsic, wouldn't help me unless I fetched a dragon egg for him. He needed it to make Magincian Pastry--the same quest I got from the cook in Serpent's Hold. Sandy knew where I could find dragons' eggs: in the nearby dungeon Destard.

Not for the first time, I wished the Avatar could just beat information out of people.

The dungeon was, of course, full of dragons, and the only thing that kept me alive was their weakness to the "Paralysis" spell. If I didn't cast it almost immediately, not only did they have a powerful breath attack, they could gate in daemons (yes, daemons--clearly separate creatures from gargoyles; they're smaller). The daemons, in turn, could charm my party members and turn themselves invisible. When they did that, I had to take direct command of the rest of the party because they wouldn't automatically target any attacks on an invisible enemy. (Much, much later, I discovered the "Reveal" spell, but I didn't have it when I really needed it.)

Attacking a dragon with a daemon by his wing. Note that the dragon is above some of my characters--multiple things can occupy the same space in this game.

After a long exploration through monsters and lava, in which both "Paralysis" and "Great Heal" nearly exhausted my spell points and reagents, I finally found the egg chamber and stole three eggs--two for the cooks, and one in case they would pay money for extras (they didn't).

Upon my return, Sandy spilled the beans on the rest of Hawkins's crew. The easiest one to shake down was "Lord Whitsaber," the mayor of Trinsic, whose real name was "Alastor Gordon." When I mentioned the name, he freaked out and begged me to keep his secret in exchange for the map. I obliged, mostly because the game doesn't offer a mechanism by which I could tell anyone anyway. That was the second piece.

The third piece was in the hands of Morchella in Serpent's Hold. It was also an easy one: she traded it for the magic shield I had earlier created to join the Order. While I was there, I gave the second dragon egg to the cook, but he rewarded me only with an enthusiastic "thank you."
Or three of them.
The fourth piece was with a pirate named Ybarra in the dungeon Shame. I'm not sure why, but I forgot to take screen shots there. I encountered him on a low level, and he'd been lost for a while. He traded the map piece for some food, but no matter how much food I gave him, he remained famished. He ultimately took all of my food and even a number of meals I conjured with "Create Food." I'm sorry there wasn't a way to help him. He collapsed on the floor as I left and I had to leave him there.
I liked the dungeon. It had enemies of moderate difficulty, and the whole place was littered with gold nuggets.

This ought to be illegal.

For the fifth piece, I only knew that it was in a shipwreck. I had previously explored shipwrecks on the Fens of the Dead and on the barrier island off Trinsic and found nothing. But I'd heard that Empire, Hawkins's old ship, had wrecked on an island near Serpent's Hold, so I went there. It turned out to be full of skeletons and ghosts, and after I killed them, I found the map in the ship's stern. Another easy one.

The sixth piece had been owned by the pirate Heftimus, who had now fallen to begging outside the tavern in Jhelom. When I asked him, he said he lost it in the dungeon Wrong.

Wrong was a bit different than the other dungeons in the game, organized as constructed jail cells rather than the red cavern-like structure of the others. When I first entered and saw that the dungeon involved a lot of lever puzzles, I had a viscerally negative reaction. I knew I remembered the puzzles, and I remembered them to be a nightmare. But they weren't hard at all, so maybe I'm thinking of something from Ultima VII. I did have to use the "Telekinesis" spell to move a lever at one point, and there were a lot of secret doors, but nothing the magic gems couldn't help with.

The seventh piece was in the possession of a mad, paranoid hermit named Bonn on Dagger Isle. He insisted I'd never find it, but he dropped enough clues about a secret area beneath his house that I just moved his furniture around until I found the hidden entrance. The map was amidst a bunch of other goodies.

Before I left, he imparted some advice to go to the Shrine of Honesty, then "take 3 steps north, 2 steps west, 5 steps south, and 4 steps east. Then eat some grapes, and all will become clear to you!" Obviously, it was just the ravings of a madman, but a voice nagged at me that I'd better test it out, just in case.

Gideon makes a fool out of himself in front of his whole party.

The eighth piece had been owned by a pirate named Nathaniel Moorehead. When I got to his home near Empath Abbey, I found out he was dead. His widow said that the map piece had been in a locket, but some gypsies had come along and stolen the locket.

I was pretty sure I knew what gypsies she meant, and I doubted it was Zoltan's group. Sure enough:

Arturos gave me the option to buy it, but I figured it would be poetic justice if I took it from him in a different way:

I stole his 82 gold pieces, too.

With the eight pieces in my possession, I returned to Homer. He agreed to give me the ninth piece and tell me how to get to the treasure as long as I agreed to return to him with the Storm Cloak buried along with the tablet. I didn't see a problem with that. He related the specific directions once I found the island: stand in the center of three stones, walk 3 paces south, 9 paces west, 12 paces south, and dig one space to the south.

I spent some time shuffling map pieces on the ground like a picture puzzle before they made sense and produced the image at the top of the screen. It clearly shows Buccaneer's Den and New Magincia along with a small island with an "X" on it somewhere southwest of Buccaneer's Den. The island appears on the main game map, too, and it would have been easy to find without going through all the trouble of retrieving the map pieces. When I got to the island, even the place to dig was rather obvious--the only patch of dirt on the island. I wondered how many players had stumbled upon it without ever doing the map quests.

The hole led to a large, multi-level dungeon with all kinds of misleading signs and traps. Right at the beginning was Captain Hawkins's grave. The inscription read "HERE LIES CAPTAIN HAWKINS. HE DIED A HARD DEATH AND HE DESERVED IT."

This is a good place to mention the real-world vitriol behind the message, which is chronicled on the Ultima wiki. Briefly, Origin had used Electronic Arts as its distributor for some games in the late 1980s, but the relationship between the companies turned sour. Hawkins and his 9 pirates are all named after EA employees: Trip Hawkins, Joe Ybarra, Bing Gordon, Steward Bonn, and so forth. 

A sign directs me into a bear trap.
And one of the down holes drops me into a pool of lava.

The dungeon culminated in a locked building. I had to use a powder keg (I always carry a few) to blow open the door. I'm not sure if there was a key in the dungeon that I just didn't find.

The treasure room was quite large. It held the large part of the silver tablet, the Storm Cloak, several pieces of magic armor, and lots of gold and nuggets. A good haul.

I understand that the Storm Cloak is a pretty important artifact, though I don't know exactly what it does. When I put it on, it turns the screen all sparkly, so it's rather annoying to wear. I suspect it has something to do with magic, or canceling magic. In any event, no matter how useful it might have been, I decided for role-playing reasons to be true to my word and return it to Homer.

Then I killed him and took it back. No! Just kidding!

With the tablet in hand, I returned to Mariah at the Lycaeum to have her translate the rest of the Book of Prophecies. This is the entirety of her translation:

An ancient prophecy tells of the final days, when the end of the world shall come. Three signs shall precede the end. Thrice shall a being of great evil come unto our land, and by this it shall be known that the end is nigh. This evil one is of another race, who consider the evil one a great prophet. Yet this false prophet follows not the principles of Control, Passion, and Diligence.

One day the false prophet will come and desecrate our most holy shrine. And the false prophet will steal our most holy artifact, the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom. This shall be the first sign of the end.

Then it is written, the false prophet shall descend deep into the bowels of the earth. And the false prophet will cause the underworld to collapse. This will cause great earthquakes to tear our world asunder, and there will be a time of plague and famine. This shall be the second sign of the end.

One last time shall the false prophet come. This time, the false prophet will come with a band of warriors. And they will destroy what remains of the Gargoyle race. There is only one way that this prophecy may be averted: That is by the sacrifice of the false prophet.

Mariah has a gift for the obvious.

First of all, as an anonymous commenter recently pointed out, I'm getting blamed here for things I didn't do. I didn't "steal" the Codex. I just visited it. The Great Council is responsible for "raising" it to Britannia. They must have decided to pin it on me during the big party they had after tossing me back to Earth. I also didn't "cause the underworld to collapse." How did that even happen? All I did was rescue Lord British. I didn't blow anything up.

Second, I kind of knew all of this already from my conversations with Sin'Vraal. And here's the kicker: at the end of all of this, as the next stage in my quest, Mariah said to go "seek out Sin'Vraal for more information." Seriously? I'd already been to his place twice. I had to visit him to finish the map quest. Is there any player in the world who, upon meeting Sin'Vraal on that occasion, didn't think to ask about the Book of Prophecies? For that matter, why did I need the tablet to translate the book when Sin'Vraal speaks English and, presumably, reads Gargish?

Thus, as much as I liked the pieces of the map quest, the whole thing was rather pointless. Not only that, it was pointless on multiple levels: You could figure out the location of the island with just a couple of the map pieces, and you hardly need the map to know to dig at the only patch of dirt on the island that has no other purpose. It feels like with just a little tweaking, the creators could have made this entire quest--the central part of the game--a lot more meaningful and consequential.

Well, in any event, my next stage is clear. Sin'Vraal says that "sacrifice" might not literally mean that someone has to plunge a dagger in my chest, and he suggests that I go down the dungeon Hythloth to the Gargoyle world to seek out a scholar.

I should mention that ever since I finished the rune quests, when I faithfully walked or rowed from city to city, I've been using the Orb of Moons to travel as much as possible. There simply isn't enough to discover serendipitously on the surface to make it worthwhile to hoof it. There are hardly even any combats on the surface. However, I'll adhere to the principle of only using the Orb to visit places I've already found the "regular" way, so it's time to hit another dungeon.

In my next post, I'll talk about the game's approach to dungeons, combat, equipment, and leveling before rejoining the main quest after that. Despite my complains about the triviality of the core quest, I am having a lot of fun with the game. It's much better than I remembered going into it.


  1. The Storm Cloak is indeed a powerful artifact. When worn, it negates all magic in the area. You should pickpocket it back from Homer, although there are a couple of others in the game. They also don't last forever.

    1. You'll wish you had the storm cloak for when you went into Destard for the dragon's egg. The other spell that's handy in there is "mass invisibility", but chances are you're not high enough level to cast it at that stage of the game. Another handy spell to have on hand is "explosion"; it has the same effect as a powder keg, but is much lighter to carry.

    2. I'm sure it would have made things easier, but I really didn't feel like I suffered much for its absence.

  2. As unnecessary as the map quest was, I know I wouldn't have regretted it, if I had played through it, if it gave me a chance to interact with Ultima 6's rich world. Just reading about it was fun enough!

    1. I agree. Several posts ago, after talking to Sin'Vraal, I knew I could just go down Hythloth at that point, but I also knew I'd miss a lot of the game's fun. I just think the developers could have made it feel a little more necessary with a few tweaks.

    2. For instance, even if you know all of the component parts, you still can't assemble the balloon without the balloon plans. They could have made the map work like this, where you could only find the treasure location by using the map (instead of just using a shovel).

      Sin'Vraal breaks the logic of the quest. Maybe they could have had him not appear until you find the silver tablet. With all the late gargoyle hate, he's gone into hiding, and only Mariah knows where he is. There are other possibilities.

    3. On the other hand, it is nice when the world isn't a linear progression for the player. I dislike when games insist that I visit 17 different locations (in order no less) just so that I can "find" something that I already knew was there all along. Especially when all locations hints at where the final location actually is.

      Mariah could be the only one to know where he is, yes, but it should still be possible to find him (by chance, exhaustive search or meta-knowledge - e.g. played the game before).

    4. When I played the game for the first time (I was 17 or so?), I went around and found runes and liberated shrines and... hey what else do I have to do? Let me talk to that mage in the throne room. Only THEN did I realize I had to show the tablet to Mariah :D

      Yup it's great to be able to play the game in our own order.

    5. Is the information about them needing to 'sacrifice' you, and that word not necessarily meaning slabs 'n stabs, obtainable without the tablet? Because that information, and being pointed to a person in the underworld who can tell you more, seems like it would be worth questing for. Maybe they could also throw in a line about how Sin'Vraal can't read religious runes.

    6. ACTUALLY, I just re-read the dialogue and Sin'Vraal does mention that he can't read, so he couldn't have translated the book directly, but he does say "I know what it says" and relates the bit about the false prophet and sacrifice. Thus, while Mariah's translation offers a lot more detail, you could still skip it entirely if you met Sin'Vraal first. Which of course you do.

    7. Regarding going and digging a hole in the obvious spot without getting all the map pieces - honestly that would have never even occurred to me. The only reason I knew to bring a shovel there was because Homer told me I would have to dig. Not sure what else I was expecting to do for a buried treasure, but I remember that this is the only thing that cued me that you could "use" a shovel to dig.

  3. This sounds like the best game you've played so far, honestly, and that's coming from a big M&M and Wizardry fan who's had minimal exposure to Ultima. It is definitely the most complex and rich, it seems. I look forward to getting around it at some point. So many games, so little time.

    I do find myself doing things like the treasure hunt in this game quite a bit - that is, go on an adventure with no significant reward to just solving it. This is partly for roleplaying reasons, but mostly because if a game is fun, I WANT to see more of it's content, not skip it for efficiency. Plus, pirate quests are always fun.

    1. It is the best game he's played so far. Also the best he'll play. ;)

    2. Even though I could change my mind tomorrow and say Serpent Isle is the best. Or Darklands. But that's it. ;)

    3. Oh it doesn't seem like it could match World of Xeen or Wizardry 7 to me, though I expect the scores will fall on your side. If we want to go with more modern games, I don't see it beating Planescape: Torment. Though it occurs to me just now that Torment is closer time-wise to Ultima VI than any actual modern game... making me feel quite old considering I was like 5 when U4 came out.

  4. The department of interesting misreadings:

    I read "I stole his 82 gold pieces, too." and immediately after was a new paragraph that starts with "With the eight pieces in my possession". I read that as "With the pieces of eight in my possession". My brain must have thought that fit the pirate theme better. :)

  5. Thinking back to the previous post and your "great insight" that CRPG's are actually video games... That really says that the story is good enough that you started to become immersed. But then the jarring discrepancies broke that immersion.

    As I commented yesterday on the Adventure Gamer's blog, it's the small things that count. The closer a game is to reality, the more our minds expected it to *be* real. Anything that doesn't make sense bothers us much more than if we did not feel personally involved in the story. (See "The Uncanny Valley" on wikipedia for more on this.)

    1. Yes, exactly. I think this will be a major theme in my final rating.

  6. I have very good memories of this Ultima. Probably because it was the first one I played on a full color PC instead of the old Apple II with television display. But still... I hope it scores well, despite the inconsistencies. I could see it falling below Ultima V in some ways but it's a tough call.

    1. I can honestly say I liked them both about equally. It's going to be close.

  7. Perhaps an alternative ending to the map & silver tablet quest would have been that, after translating the tablet, Mariah sends you to seek out Britannia's foremost scholar of the gargoyles, Captain Johne, who was last seen sailing for the Isle of the Avatar. Or something like that. Sending you back to Sin'Vraal is kind of lame.

    Also - Shame is a mine... besides all the gold nuggets you find laying around, if you "use" a pick axe in there you will occasionally strike gold. Another neat little feature they thought of, while bungling the map quest.

    1. Especially since Johne sent the tablet up in the first place. Yes, that would have made sense.

      No kidding about Shame? Do you have to use it on particular things (stalagmites, walls) or does it just randomly produce ore if used anywhere?

    2. Been a very long time but I think certain spots of ground give the gold nuggets, or maybe it's just one out of every 5 "uses" you get a nugget. Kind of like catching fish. Occasionally you get a fountain too. I don't remember if it's just Shame or if this works in other dungeons do this too.

  8. Re: hanging on to items, just in case... I have played the gold box games for 20 years and have never run out of charges on a wand...

    1. In Ultima 6 I remember having one bag full of lightning wands and fire wands, and another bag full of magical rings, and another bag with potions, another bag full of glass swords - all of which I was saving for when I 'really' needed them!

      I bet this is characteristic of a certain personality type among CRPG players. I wonder if there are others who, as soon as they get that glass sword are dual-wielding it with a lightning wand and putting a regen ring on one finger and a protection ring on the other while they scream into battle against a couple of trolls.

    2. The wands weren't a problem for me in U6. They lasted a long time and were basically weapons. I gave the most powerful ones to characters with low XP and didn't worry if I was "wasting" them.

      But I agree that I tend to be way too conservative with wands in the Gold Box and Infinity Engine games.

      The glass swords are problematic. There simply isn't any single combat that's difficult enough to "save" them for. I suppose I should have burned my remaining inventory on the daemons in the Shrine of Diligence, but even they weren't THAT hard.

    3. I know a lot of people frown on cheating, but when I discovered the dupe bug I actually started using regen and invisibility rings (that I had duped). Ironically I don't think I even went through all my non-duped stock so the cheat wasn't even necessary, but did away with a lot of the mental cost of "wasting" items :P

  9. Stealing 82 GPs from a poor gypsy but not stealing back the Storm Cloak from a REAL guild-registered thief? Wot?!

  10. You are RPing a pretty dark avatar! Murdering a guy who you *think* committed a murder (based on an ambiguous confession and without a trial); using a freaking cannon on the head of a thieves' guild! Must've woke up on the wrong side of the Moonstone that morning :)


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