Thursday, April 21, 2022

Ultima Underworld II: Don't Fear the Reaper

It was too early for me to face ghosts.
This session began with what was supposed to be a quick trip back up to Castle Britannia to dump off some equipment and spend a couple of training points. Chastised by many commenters in my last entry, I had decided to train up "Casting," the lowest of what I had identified as the most important skills, and "Attack." The latter was no problem--I found Geoffrey almost immediately--but so far, the only "Casting" trainer has been Nystul, and I couldn't find him anywhere. This entry was nearly subtitled The Search for Nystul. I don't know where he was for 99% of my search--not in his chambers, not in the throne room--but after about 30 minutes of looking around, I found him in the Main Hall, acting as if he'd been there all along.

I decided to try the alternate ladder, in the southeast section of the castle. It just brought me to a locked portcullis on Level 2. I tried bashing it for a while to no avail, so I had to return to Level 3 the way I had entered the first time. I stopped and tried to take on the headless again, but an entire mana supply of "Magic Arrow" plus numerous melee attacks didn't do the trick. I only succeeded in damaging my sword. It appears that when an enemy outclasses you in this game, one way you know is that your weapon gets damaged faster.
How you know your approach isn't working.
I jumped some platforms to get to a passage in the southwest. Like the first game, jumping is very generous. Whether you run and jump or do a standing jump, you jump farther than it feels should be possible. At the end of the southwest passage, I found a ladder down to the next level. I still had headless and gazers to kill on this level, but no good ways to go about it, so I moved forward.
The ladder brought me down to a thin strip of land east of a large underground lake. There were lurkers in the lake, and while I was fiddling around trying to get within striking distance, I fell in and could not fight against the current to get out. I swam with the current to the southwest, where I found an exit that brought me up some stairs to an elevated wooden platform. There, I found a couple of fish and a fishing pole next to a bench. The fish were rotten, but I took the pole. I continued around past another pole until I was above the spot where I had entered, jumped down, and continued exploring to the north. Before long, I killed a bloodworm and hit Level 4.
There was a small area with lava walls. I have no idea why. We weren't that deep.
More bloodworms, bats, and mongbats attacked as I continued north and then west around a central lake. A passage led to the north and soon split into east and west branches. I followed the east and stumbled into a cavern full of giant spiders. I prepared to attack but noted that they weren't hostile. I tried making some friends by throwing them some meat, but they ignored it. So I just walked past them and explored their chamber, taking a magic scroll from a ledge.

The chamber opposite the giant spiders had three or four headless, and I was no more capable of defeating them than I was on the last level. I ran around their chamber looting it for all I could find, which included a Wand of Lightning, 12 gold pieces, and some chain leggings. Back out in the main cavern, killing another cluster of bloodworms and mongbats brought me to Level 5. I'm mostly using magic for "Light" and "Lesser Heal." Bloodworms poison, but it wears off quickly enough. 
Hitting Level 4 as I fight bats on the side of a lake.
The cavern kept wrapping around the lake to the west and then to the south. Then it left the lake to the west. It brought me back to the network of rat-infested passages that I'd explored previously before losing my life to the reaper.  Before I met the rats again, though, I met a peaceful goblin who was grateful for my clearing the lakeshore of the bloodworms. He greeted me as "Wormslayer" and offered me a fish, which I accepted. He said that the Moglop clan had traveled to the sewers "to escape the endless petty warfare between the other goblin tribes," then got trapped by the blackrock. I'll remind you that goblins don't exist in Britannia in any previous Ultima except the first Underworld. I had some hostile options, but I honestly can't decide if there's any problem with a tribe of goblins hanging out in the caverns below Britannia. We parted as friends. 
A second goblin, a bit to the south, was named Rogwump. He complained about constantly having to eat fish ("I used to love to eat fish!") and wanted to barter for something else. He didn't have anything I really wanted, except some leeches, which can cure poison. I offered him a cheese wheel and three loaves of bread for them, but he wouldn't budge, so I told him he could eat the leeches if he wanted some variety in his diet and continued on. In the next cavern, though, a goblin called "The Dripper" happily took two bottles of ale for his leeches. Within a few steps, I found four bunches of leeches just sitting on the floor. 
"Rogwump" sounded familiar, but I couldn't find many references beyond this game.
In the next section, I killed about 20 rats. The corridors led me to a giant rat sitting on a bed of cheese. He never turned hostile, so I didn't kill him, but I did liberate a magic scroll and a purple potion from his nest.
"Yuck" is not a good enough reason to kill.
I made my way back to the swampy area to the south, where I killed the reaper with four blasts from the Wand of Lightning. I made Level 6. The reaper was guarding some gold, a jeweled sword, and the key to Britannia's armory. I took everything, which brought my encumbrance up to almost the maximum, and headed back to the ladder.
I realized during my return trip that my leveling had given me access to "Water Walk" (YLEM POR). I figured I'd use it to explore the lake and kill the lurkers. The problem was that the lurkers were nearly impossible to hit, despite my having killed one with ease on Level 3. (I think there's a "greater lurker"/"lesser lurker" thing going on.) Despite this, I stubbornly remained on the lake, swinging away, healing and resting when I had to, until I'd killed all the lurkers a couple of hours later. I hit Level 7 on the death of the last one. An island in the middle of the lake had the way down to the next level.
A lurker and a bat both attack at once.
As I fought, I reflected on the strengths and weaknesses of the combat system. Even though I gave it a lot of credit in the previous Ultima Underworld, I'm not sure I really reflected on how unusual (and thus perhaps gutsy) it was, blending player dexterity, speed, and probability. The Dungeon Master line had given us action gameplay with RPG-style probabilistic values, but its action elements amount to hitting a single attack button. I think the first Underworld is the first game in which more complex variables come into play, such as facing direction and distance and the length of time you hold down the mouse button.
The "gutsy" part comes in requiring the player to execute a visible attack--a swing, a stab, or a chop--and yet still allow the attack to miss even when it visibly connects. In many ways, it violates fundamental rules--albeit of action games rather than RPGs. The developers had to trust that the audience would be primarily RPG enthusiasts who would consequently understand what was happening, rather than action game enthusiasts to whom player accuracy always means character accuracy. 
As much as I found of Level 4.
The more important factor for me is how combat is integrated into a larger environment, such that you can knock enemies off platforms, throw just about any item at them, and flee by entering terrain that they can't enter. (That was largely how I defeated the lurkers.) Again, Dungeon Master paved a lot of this way (e.g., closing doors on enemies, throwing, dropping down pits), and later titles would introduce even more environmental effects, but for an early game, the system is still pretty mature in Underworld.
Back in the castle, I ran into an NPC I don't remember talking to before: Charles, Nell's brother. He was worried about the castle's access to water despite a fairly large and obvious fountain running in the main hall and an underground lake beneath us. I had no dialogue options to reassure him. 
People just need to come a level or two downstairs. FYI, I haven't been able to figure out a way to the top of this waterfall. I bet there's stuff down that hallway.
I took the pantry stairs down to the basement and used the reaper's key to open the armory. It had a lot of weapons and armor, but nothing explicitly magical. I replaced my buckler with a tower shield, my leather cap with a helmet, and my leather armor with a breastplate. Then it was time to spend some of my 6 skill points. I used one point each on "Attack," "Defense," "Charisma," and "Lore" and saved two for later. I had thought to put a point or two into "Sword," but I couldn't find Syria for the life of me.
I spoke to Miranda in the Great Hall, and she said that both Nystul and Patterson wanted to see me. All Nystul wanted to do was remark that some of the tunnels beneath Castle Britannia are thousands of years old, and that their mysteries may be useful to us. Patterson just wanted to suggest that a library might be more helpful than those same tunnels. I thought this might be a hint, so I went to Nystul's library and poked around but didn't find anything new. Nanna had a new round of complaints about how hard she works for no appreciation. Julia said she'd been trying to teach weapons repair to Patterson but he's no good at it. 
You're right, Nanny. Next time I capture an island, I shall name it Whiner's Isle.
I paid a visit to Lord British. Among all the NPCs in the castle, he alone stays completely in his bedroom. He never pops into the Great Hall to see how things are going or to, you know, lead in any material way. He had nothing new to say. The thief Fissif was in one of the jail cells, but oddly the only dialogue option I had with him was to threaten to arrest him again, which causes him to "make for the nearest ladder" (to turn himself in) by leaving his cell and disappearing. I hope he either returns to the jail or wasn't important in the first place. 
The would-be burglar rots in jail.
I returned to the sewers and tried again against the headless. I was able to kill the two on Level 3 in a long battle that used up my wands and involved a lot of retreating. This didn't leave me especially eager to try against the half dozen on Level 4, so I bypassed them and headed down to Level 5. 
The ladder deposited me in a small room with a corridor heading north. It bent west before opening into a large cavern that, just like the level above, had a lake in the middle. The place was swarming with slugs, bats, and lurkers. Bats in this game are horribly annoying. If they don't die in one hit, they flee, sometimes upwards. For the rest of your time on the level, you can hear them flitting away in the darkness. Killing them all seems impossible, so you never get the merciful silence of a cleared dungeon.

On an island in the center of the lake, I found the miniature blackrock dome that Nystul hypothesized must exist. It pulsates with a blue glow. There are seven or eight facets, and one of them, facing north, is a lighter blue than the others. 
I suspect I'll be coming here a lot.
I decided to finish exploring the level before messing with the gem. The southern half was a mixture of water areas and dry corridors, with occasional minor treasures. One large chamber was guarded by two hostile ghosts, whom I couldn't even hit. I annotated them for later and ran past them. Near the bones of some previous adventurer, I found a POR rune, which I already had.
My map of Level 5 beneath Castle Britannia.
(Overall, I was disappointed that I didn't find more runes during this session. I had wanted to play as a mage, but the only offensive spell I'm capable of with existing runes is "Magic Arrow," which simply doesn't do enough damage to serve as a primary offensive tool. The game is also very touchy with spell distances. There's a very small window between "close enough I can see the enemy through the darkness" and "too close to cast a targeted spell.")
This "not enough room" nonsense comes up too often.
An eastern corridor led to a ladder upwards, and I was surprised to find myself in Castle Britannia's basement, where the armory is, behind a locked portcullis. A switch let me open it from this side. This route gives me a quick way down to Level 5 from the castle.
Back I went to the blackrock gem. Clicking on it didn't seem to do anything. If I got too close, it repelled me with the message that "that face of the gem remains opaque, and you are bounced back." I tried approaching the lighter face, and I walked into the gem. There was a brief transition, and I found myself in a small corridor with a door at the end. The automap noted only that I was on "Level 1." Behind me, the corridor was covered with an opaque blockade of blackrock, but I tested it and discovered that walking into it returned me to the gem beneath the castle. This gem thus must be the nexus of the subtitular labyrinth of worlds.
We'll pick up next time in this strange new location. 

Time so far: 8 hours


  1. I completely forgot how much there was to the underground of the castle. In my memory there was half a level!

    1. Yeah, the castle/sewers are huge.

      I love this game, but one of my criticisms would be that it takes a bit too long (8 hours!) to get to the really interesting parts.

    2. Interesting, I always thought the sewers were more interesting than many (most?) of the worlds/dimensions

    3. @Vince: At least it isn't a final fantasy game. I read a comment on reddit, I think, in all seriousness saying (i'm paraphrasing) it doesn't get interesting until about 20 hours in and then you get to the meat of the game!

    4. The Final Fantasy in question most likely is 13. I've seen that same statement repeated many times, and I'm sure it's true for some people.

      The thing is that FFXIII starts out very linear and doesn't open up, both exploration-wise as well as giving you full control over party composition and character builds, until some point maybe 10-20 hours into the game (although even that isn't *that* much when a playthrough can easily take 60-100 hours).

      If you're only in it for the combat, which can get very intense and offers amazing tactical depth for those who want it, the game might only really get interesting from that point on. While I think that combat is indeed the game's strongest point, I did enjoy many other aspects as well as the early game just fine, so the often cited statement definitely isn't universally true.

    5. FFXIII also has level design that makes you really feel the linearity. In practice, many of the earlier games are just as linear in structure and take just as long to really open up, but they at least give you the opportunity to find your way from place to place, talk to NPCs, look for hidden items, etc. XIII is very explicitly structured as a series of corridors you run down and have battles and plot cutscenes in.

      Because of that, I'm not really sure what other aspects of the game there are to enjoy before things open up. Combat is pretty much the only game mechanic. If you're not enjoying the combat, there's nothing left other than watching the story play out.

    6. Which I enjoyed, though not as much as the visual design and music. The characters are a mixed bag at best, I admit.

  2. In regards to that waterfall (and other difficult to reach places) I recall it being a big deal when I finally found a HUR runestone.

  3. No, you misunderstand. Earlier games called them mongbats, but the big reveal is that they were actually goblins all along! /s

    1. Mongbats ? I just read "Solomon Kane: Wings in the Night" by Robert Howard (the author of Conan the "Sumerian" ;) ). There, the monsters were six-limbed creatures, with four hands and two wings, and covered in brown fur. I am sure they were the inspiration for the mongbats. Howard's story reveals later that they were harpies from Greece.

      Definitely not goblins... Unless you were joking about Ultima retroactive corrections.

    2. I think it's more likely the mongbats were inspired by the flying monkeys from Wizard Of Oz. It's referenced elsewhere in Ultima and Garriott wasn't much of a reader.

    3. James Neal, I think you are right. Maybe both Robert Howard and the Origin staff took inspiration from Frank Baum. Now I am curious; maybe I will read the Wizard of Oz.

    4. Garriot says that the only books he read were LOTR, Narnia, and Oz.

  4. I am pretty sure there is a magical piece of armor in the Armory, but I don't remember how lore works in UW2. If it's too low, will magic items just show as a normal ones?

    1. I think so. Maybe I'll give it some more points.

    2. I confirmed and there should actually be 2 magical items in the Armory. I remembered one correctly, the other probably eluded me (or, looking at the specs, I know why I'd have ignored it, frankly).

      Now I'm actually curious about how useful Lore actually is...

  5. Great post! With a nice teaser at the end...

  6. If playing as a mage is frustrating try to play as an archer. Same too close text and then you have to swich weapons with the mouse.

    1. I was wondering if it did the same thing with missile weapons. I haven't even bothered to try them.

    2. This came up in contemporary reviews, for both Ultima Underworld games. It was typically regarded as fair play: goblins with slings can't chuck sling stones at you if you close to melee range; the same applies to fire elementals hurling fireballs. So it's only fair that restriction applies to you as well.

      Higher-level spells *can* work in melee range.

  7. I wonder who invented this thing that "mice and rats love cheese". Think of it: all rodents (rats and mice in particular) are herbivores, but cheese is a food of animal origin ("meat").

    A dozen years ago I had to set a few mouse traps. The critters completely ignored those with cheese bait, they went for the bread bait only.

    A few years ago, during a picnic in the countryside, a cute mouse approached us. It hid away when we tried to feed it cheese, but it gorged itself on the grapes we offered.

    My conclusion: "cheese-loving rodents" are pure fiction.

    1. I would guess that mice and rats really do love the sorts of places cheese is traditionally stored - dark, cool cellars.

    2. I agree. As someone who has to trap mice weekly, I have a lot more success with fruit than cheese.

    3. My Grandfather's rodent bait of choice was peanut butter.

    4. Peanut butter is the only thing that reliably works for me when our house gets mice. I've tried some other things (including a few types of cheese), and they just don't stay in the bait part of the trap securely. Either they fall out right away, or I come back a few days later to find the trap sprung but empty, and the bait gone.

      As for the actual origin...I suspect that Ross has the right of it, combined with the fact that cheese a) keeps fairly well, and thus would have time to be nibbled on, and b) shows those nibble marks better than, say, stored grain.

    5. Another vote for peanut butter. Works literally every time. Sometimes you can even use it twice.

    6. Besides being stored in rodent-convenient places, cheese is one of the few foods that was traditionally stored in relatively open conditions for long periods of time - just big hunks of cheese on a shelf is far from unusual. It was simply more accessible than most stored food was.

    7. Most mice are herbivore. The most common rats, black and brown rats, are omnivores, however. They'll eat nearly everything they can find, especially the ones living in the cities and accustomed to feeding on refuse and leftovers.

      And to quote Wikipedia:
      "Martin Schein, founder of the Animal Behavior Society in 1964, studied the diet of brown rats and came to the conclusion that the most-liked foods of brown rats include scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese, raw carrots, and cooked corn kernels. According to Schein, the least-liked foods were raw beets, peaches, and raw celery."

      So there is some truth behind the notion about rats liking cheese.

    8. The rat diet also includes mice; you shouldn't put rats and mice together in the same cage.

    9. The accessibility of cheese is a good point. Even if mice don't actually like cheese, they'd probably take a nibble from time to time just to figure out what it was, so teeth-marks would build up on an aged wheel.

  8. Goblins may not have been previously mentioned in Britannia, but they did exist in its predecessor, Sosaria. The Ultima III manual, and the in-game text for combat encounters, list them alongside orcs and trolls as one of the monster types. There's probably some way of retconning the Ultima III goblins into the Ultima Underworld plot, but as I haven't played the latter game, I'll refrain from doing so myself.

    1. The chronicles are incomplete and left them out by accident!

  9. It is best to ignore attack and defense at the start and focus on a weapon skill. Weapon skills increases faster (more skill pee training point) AND have more effect per point for attack.

    one weapon skill = 2 attack skill + 0.5 defense skill.

    Downside is having to specialise, but should do that anyway. Swords and axes are both fine choice.

    So I recommend ignoring attack and defense skills until you hit max with your weapon.

    1. I also seem to remember that higher weapon skill made it more unlikely to damage your weapon.

      That jewelled sword from the reaper swamp served me well throughout the game (with some added enchantment later on via that one high-level spell), so taking sword skill will definitely work out just fine if you want to try it.

      Unlike levels, skill points are not capped in UW2, so you can take all the skills you like (esp. since there are a few grind spots where monsters spawn endlessly).

    2. Investing in skills has diminishing returns. Spoiler (ROT13):

      Sebz 0 gb 0.5 * pbageby fgng (Fgeratgu sbe pbzong fxvyyf, Vagryyvtrapr sbe Znan/Yber/Pnfgvat, Qrkgrevgl sbe rirelguvat ryfr): tnva 3 fxvyy cbvagf cre genvavat cbvag.

      Sebz 0.5 * pbageby fgng gb pbageby fgng: tnva 2 fxvyy cbvagf cre genvavat cbvag.

      Nobir pbageby fgng: tnva 1 fxvyy cbvag cre genvavat cbvag.

      Jrncba fxvyy vf zber vzcbegnag guna nggnpx/qrsrafr (jvgu gur ceboyrz gung lbh'er pbzzvggvat gb n fcrpvsvp jrncba glcr vs lbh vairfg guvf jnl -- "jubbcf V sbhaq na njrfbzr znpr jura V vairfgrq nyy gurfr cbvagf va fjbeqf" vf n guvat), naq qrsrafr vf zber vzcbegnag guna nggnpx (juvpu vf hfhnyyl gehr va byqre ECTf naq fgengrtl tnzrf -- Hygvzn VVV/VI ner cebonoyl gur zbfg cebzvarag rkprcgvbaf gung qba'g znxr guvf pyrne va gur qbphzragngvba).

      Gurer ner nyfb fxvyy oernxcbvagf, ohg gung'f bayl ernyyl N Guvat sbe Pnfgvat naq Yber juvpu lbh nyernql xabj lbh jnag gb qhzc cbvagf vagb.

      Nyy bs gur nobir nccyl gb obgu Hygvzn Haqrejbeyq tnzrf.

    3. So far, I think I've only gained skill points when I've gained levels. Are you saying that the two things aren't necessarily tied to each other? If not, how can skill point acquisition continue after levels have been maxed?

    4. You gain training points as you gain experience. At game start that happens to be tied to levels, but not later on.

      Also, in Ultima Underworld II you can indefinitely gain experience even after you hit the level cap of 16, which doesn't happen in the first game.

  10. I hope you give points for the writing in conversations, Chet. The Nanna and the goblin dialogs are hilarious, much better characterized than any RPG I remember from this era.
    Also that you can just have a conversation about something unrelated to progressing in the game helps immerse yourself in the world of the game. Finally, the fact that the dialog changes is also pretty cool.
    These are all things that are not technically difficult but so often overlooked by game developers who just want to get more polygons out of a 386.

  11. Of course you choose a buxum blonde white womem for your character portrait. I am very dissapointed you didn't use a person of color who are actually represented in this game. Shame on you!

  12. JM - I hope that was meant to be humorous, because it did make me chuckle.

  13. "Rogwump" is similar(ish) to "mugwump", so perhaps that's why it seemed familiar? It's where my mind went, anyway.

    (Why I know that word when I'm British and have very little knowledge of 19th century American politics, I could not tell you.)

    1. Albus Dumbledore is the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards during the events of the Harry Potter series. I don't know if JK Rowling got the word from real-world American politics, or if it's just a wizard-y word that she invented independently, or what.

      There is also a creature called a "bog wump" that is briefly mentioned in Terry Brooks' Magic Kingdom For Sale—Sold!, fwiw.

    2. Don't be silly. It's William Burroughs Naked Lunch that enshrined mugwumps in popular culture.


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