Thursday, February 9, 2023

Serpent Isle: Gotta Find that Mutton

A note outlines our lost inventory.
When I closed my introductory entry, I remarked about how nice it was to start an Ultima game with the party fully equipped. This was a joke, of course. Within the first minute of gameplay, you're stripped of most of it.
This session begins with my party walking south along the coast. I stop to talk to each of them first. Only Iolo has anything to say, and it's about how much he misses Gwenno. I ask all of them to "leave," just to see what will happen, and they all act as if I'm joking.
This is ironic, because before the ship is even out of sight, lightning strikes the party, and one-by-one, all of them disappear except for the Avatar. Random items--like a potted plant, a grandfather clock, and a broken dish--appear in their places but just as swiftly disappear. Moreover, half of the Avatar's equipment is gone, replaced by random items. This includes the Black Sword and the spellbook. More on the missing items in a bit. For now, suffice to say that removing them before the storm strikes does not stop them from disappearing.
Poor Avatar. Poor, poor Avatar.
Alone and confused, I continue to walk south and cross an abandoned dock. Another lightning bolt strikes a piece of garbage and replaces it with a spoon (these items also seem to be randomized). As I cross between two rocks, the air shimmers with magic, and a woman appears. "I have travelled a great distance to meet with thee," she says. "My name is Thoxa." She then tests to see if I am "the promised hero" by asking questions that I have to consult the manual to answer, like "how many different materials can armour be made from?"
After I answer them correctly, she hands me something called the Hourglass of Fate. "Keep it with thee always," she says, "for through it the Monks of Xenka can aid thee." In further conversation, she identifies herself as a Monk of Xenka. The monks apparently have prophecies that a hero shall arrive with three companions in "the last days." She believes that the end is nigh, as signaled by the magic storms and strange illnesses. The storms have the power to teleport items and people as well as change them. This has put an end to all ocean travel.
The first major dialogue of the game.
The prophecies say I can't succeed without my three companions ("thine oldest and most trusted friends"), so either I've already failed or Dupre, Shamino, and Iolo are still alive somewhere. She says I'll find more answers in a cave further to the south, and a friend awaits in a city called Monitor even further to the south. I will eventually need three artifacts: a ring, a necklace, and an earring. The hourglass will resurrect me on Monk Isle if I'm killed. 
As she prepares to leave, another monk named Karnax gates in and chastises her for even talking to me. He notes that Xenka's writings say "those who seek to aid the hero shall cause his greatest calamities." Thoxa casts a protective spell at me (a ring of fire) as the two monks begin battle. They cast spell after spell at each other. Thoxa seems to die for a moment, but she rises and blasts Karnax. As he dies, he warns me to beware my friends: "They shall only bring destruction upon thee!" A few moments later, both he and Thoxa are gone. Thoxa's final words are that I'll also need the black sword with the caged demon to complete my quest.
This ring of fire is protecting me?
(A few side notes: 1) I don't remember any of this. I remember our items disappearing but not the three companions. In my memory, we just wandered south and were immediately in Monitor. 2) I suffered the same issues with dialogue freezing as I did in The Black Gate. I had to review my own entries to remind myself that the freezing happens when I start the game using GOG's launcher, but not when I go into my own version of DOSBox and start it. I compared the two configurations and I can't see anything that could be causing it. 3) If you give Thoxa the wrong answers, she calls you an "impostor!" and runs away. I don't know what the consequences are for the rest of the game.)
I'm just recovering from that business when Shamino comes running up, having been alerted by the explosions. Great. I get one of my companions back, and it's Shamino. He remarks that his own equipment has also been replaced, and he's made a note detailing it. As we continue south, he soon spots his magic bow lying among a pile of animal bones. He notes that he has a bear's skull in his posesssion, suggesting a one-for-one teleportation of our stuff. Again, more on this in a bit. We pick up the bow and move on.
Thanks, Captain Obvious.
As the coastline turns east, we find a dead pig and carve it up for two chunks of ham. The walls of a city come into view, meaning we've missed the cave, so I turn around and head back. Thoxa had told me to look for a red bush. The entrance turns out to be hidden, next to a bush that I suppose is red.
Another game that's tough on the colorblind.
Past the illusory wall, we find a small room with a chest, a barrel, a well, and a bedroll. Shamino keeps spouting tutorial-like comments ("A bedroll! With this, thou wilt sleep well anywhere"). The chest is locked, but a nearby sack conveniently offers some picks as well as a torch. The chest contains a sextant, a torch, a sling, a dagger, and several items of food. Using a nearby bucket on the well fills it with water, a reminder to the player that the game's sandbox engine allows for such interactions.
Another illusory wall takes us to a room with an ankh altar and a skeleton. I'm in the middle of constructing my own theory as to what happened (a Britannian was stranded here and died) when I realize there's a note next to the body. The note is from Erstam, the author of the game manual, and it contains the text translated from "Ssithnos, the Great Hierophant" that begins the game manual. It hints at the war that consumed the Ophidians and describes the interactions between the forces of Order, Chaos, and Balance and the nine virtues that grow from them. We are unable to open a locked chest next to the altar (all the picks break and I have to reload), so I have Shamino take it with us.
Looting the strange cave.
I expect to find Dupre or Iolo in the cave, so I'm surprised when I don't. I check the other walls for secret passages. I'm not a fan of the way secret doors work in this game. Give me the old Ultima IV system of looking for breaks in the brickwork.
We move on to the city wall, which extends from the northern mountains to the southern ocean. A small skiff or a willingness to swim a few meters would defeat the fortification, but we have neither. There's a gatehouse with a portcullis and a guard pacing on the other side. We catch his attention. He demands my name and business. Figuring "the Avatar" will mean nothing here, I give my name. "Another stranger," he remarks, and on prodding, he mentions an "enchanter who materialized in the center of town" and is now in jail. He directs me to Lord Marsten to learn more.
What is this even guarding? There's nothing that way but a little beach and a cave.
Whoever it was--clearly either Dupre or Iolo--interrupted a funeral for several guards recently attacked by goblins, against whom the Monitorians have been at war for generations. The leader of the patrol, the Champion Knight Astrid, remains missing. She was wearing the Helm of Monitor, which the Monitorians took from a goblin chieftain of old. The goblins have also conquered one of the towers that the Monitorians set up along a trade road to Fawn. It turns out that the people of Monitor worship Courage and think little of the people of Moonshade, who worship Magic, or Fawn, who worship Beauty. 
The guard--Flicken--reluctantly agrees to let us in, but we're accompanied by two pikemen until we meet with Lord Marsten, who is currently in the crematorium. Flicken is a Knight of the Bear, one of three "commands" in Monitor; the others are the Leopards and the Wolves. Flicken has nothing but contempt for the Leopards, who include Lord Marsten and someone named Spektor, and the Wolves, whose leader is a gadabout named Brendan. The heads of the commands take turns acting as Lords of the city. They do not believe in monarchy: "we left our ancient homeland to escape a tyrant who thought otherwise."
It's funny that a town that forces everyone, even women, to become knights still adheres to the concept of "loose women."
Someone starts asking for food as we head into the city, so I throw him a hock of ham. Honestly, of all the things Origin tweaked after The Black Gate, how was this not one of them? In this case, though, I misinterpreted. It was one of the guards. "Is it meal time yet?" is apparently one of the things they just say, along with "Pay the tariff!," "Knave!," and "Move along!"
We pass a field of corn stalks and come to an intersection, where a sign, in Britannian runes, proclaims the intersection as West Gate Street and Kosric Road. I don't know if I noticed in Gate whether clicking on the lower sign produces a different message than the upper one, but it does here. I double-click on a lamp to turn it on, even though it's daytime, which based on your comments has probably just put the game in an unwinnable state.
No one's going to complain that I didn't give enough detail for this one.
The next building to the north is the Crematorium, where I'm supposed to find Lord Marsten and get rid of these pikemen. The first guy I speak to on the inside introduces himself as Renfry. He says that Marsten, Spektor, and Brendan are all in the crypts, paying their respects to the dead.
The building has a large furnace with stone stairs going up to a door on the top. There's a lever next to the door, and a kind of conveyor belt sticks out the bottom of the machine. The impression I get is that bodies are loaded in the top door, the lever activates the bellows, and the decedent's ashes come out on the conveyor. They're then collected into an urn, several of which line the shelves. I try to maneuver the pikeman into standing on the door as I activate it, but it doesn't work. The furnace comes on, but he doesn't fall.
It's too bad Dupre's not here to see this.
We wait a bit, but Lord Marsten doesn't seem to be in a hurry, so we enter the crypts, which are behind a curtain. The Monitorians apparently inter their dead in small chambers in rough-hewn caves. They place urns of ashes atop pedestals with plaques, although there are a few coffins with bodies, too. As we search for Marsten, we read the plaques:
  • CALADIN, GOLDEN-TONGUED KNIGHT. Instead of an urn, Caladin's pedestal has a crossbow. I think I know what happened there, but I leave it for now.
  • KOSRIC, THUNDERBOLTS FROM ABOVE. Note that one of the streets was Kosric Street. Nice little bit of world-building.
No in-jokes there, at least not as far as I can tell. It's nice to know my Britannian is as good as ever. I don't have to consult the manual once. I also note that despite all that's been written about this game, no site offers a transcription of those plaques nor mentions Kosric and the street named after him. The CRPG Addict is a pioneer once again!
There's a large chamber in the crypts with a square relief of a serpent on the floor. I assume this is one of the teleporters that Erstam talks about in the manual; it's somehow activated with a serpent's jawbone and the right tooth or combination of teeth. I assume I'll learn more about this later.
The label kind of gives it away.
The four men are lingering around the tomb to Groat, who must have been killed in the goblin attack. I note with some amusement that it's at least three times as large as the other crypts because of course it has to accommodate the four NPCs. 
The first one I speak to is Caladin, grandson of the entombed Caladin, who Renfry didn't mention. He's upset about his grandfather's missing ashes, which confirms my theory that they were deposited by the teleportation storm and currently in the possession of a confused Iolo. Caladin is the commander of the Knights of the Bear and offers to train us, specializing in strength. From his dialogue, I get the impression that the patrol ambush and the loss of Fawn Tower are the same event. Caladin believes the patrol was betrayed by a fellow knight. The Bears suspect Krayg the Provisioner, a Wolf.
Is the face tattoo really necessary? Yours looks more like a bat than a bear.
As we say goodbye, he recommends that we take the Test of Knighthood, as anyone who isn't a knight isn't accepted in Monitor. The test takes place in a special dungeon after Lord Marsten grants permission. He even gives us three clues, but I'll cover that later.
The second man is Spektor, the town's treasurer. I'm getting the impression that the Leopards are all bookish sorts; he freely admits that he's not much of a fighter, and he notes that if he can pass the Test of Knighthood, anyone can. He has information on Iolo, the "enchanter" who disrupted the funeral. He says I should speak to Marsten. I'll also need to return to Spektor to exchange currency.
What do you bet he does care?
Marsten is wearing the same blue tunic that I think Patterson wore in The Black Gate. He recaps what we've learned about the goblin ambush and the missing Astrid, who was apparently his lover. He plans a retaliatory raid but won't talk about it to someone who's not a knight; apparently, those who don't want to take the Test of Knighthood are banished at age 15. He also mentions his ancestors fleeing Sosaria and the "Beast British" who would impose his philosophies on everyone. He's a bit more specific as to why: The mages of Moonshade value illusions, so they rejected the association of mages with "truth." The people of Fawn worshiped Beauty, not "unconditional love." Those of Monitor thought that Courage was the most important virtue, not equal with the others. As critical as I've been of Lord British, it's hard to sympathize with any of this reasoning, particularly Fawn's. I suspect I'm not going to like that place very much.
"We prefer to force our own philosophy on people."
There's an option to say "I serve Lord British," which I try, and Marsten breaks off dialogue, saying that "no servant of the Beast shall be aided by any Knight of Monitor!" He refuses to talk with me after that unless I explicitly renounce Lord British, but no one else seems to have a problem. I reload anyway.
Conversation with Marsten confirms the roles of the commands. The Bears are the true warriors; the Leopards are the thinkers, artisans, and administrators; the Wolves are the builders. There's probably some association with Chaos, Balance, and Order here, but I'm more interested in how the three roles mirror those of the Night's Watch in A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones to you television viewers). There's probably no direct association, but it's an interesting coincidence.
We ask about Iolo, he only says that he's in jail. It seems a weird place to ask his permission to take the Test of Knighthood, but we do. The password to the test, which is administered by someone named Shmed, is "Courage is the Soul of Life."
Our first Batlin clue. Marsten appears to have been wiser than Lord British.
Before he lets us go, he asks what we're doing in Monitor. In the subsequent conversation, Brendan mentions a "fat sage," whom Marsten threw out of town, and an older woman with a "fine bone structure" who must be Gwenno. An argument among the men as to whether there's a "spy" in town takes over the discussion, and we never have a chance to answer.
We turn to leave, but suddenly Dupre comes rushing in with two guards at his back. He says he found himself in a woods full of goblins, so he took shelter in the city, but the pikemen won't leave him alone. Until this moment, I assumed we'd find Dupre hanging out in a bar; I think the authors missed an opportunity there, although maybe that characteristic of Dupre's was getting a bit old. Anyway, Dupre has also lost half of his items. He adds to Shamino's list.
Marsten deftly avoids talking with Dupre.
With Dupre in the party and no more guards tailing us, we head out (forgetting to speak to Brendan) to look for the jail and Iolo. It takes us a few buildings to find it, but I'll relate those adventures next time. It consists of four cells, three of which have corpses, suggesting that the Monitorians just throw people in jail indefinitely to rot. That's what happens when your only virtue is "courage," I guess. Iolo is pacing back and forth demanding his release. There are no jailers in the building and my lockpicks break on the door.
At least they gave him a bucket of water.
After speaking with Iolo briefly, we search around until we find Marsten in Town Hall. This time, we have the opportunity to explain what happened. Alas, Marsten says that we'd have to be knights to vouch for our friend, which means I'm going to have to solve that little quest before we can free Iolo.
Don't be a smartass, Marsten.
I had hoped to have the party intact before I began worrying about our missing equipment, but since that's delayed, I take the time to go over Shamino's list as well as loading an earlier save to compare inventory slots. Shamino's list has only the new items we found in our possession, not what we lost. I remember the last time I played this game (15-20 years ago), I wished I'd kept more careful track of what I lost and what replaced it.
To compile the list below, I had to do some save scumming. By default, the items that replace the Black Sword and the glass sword appear in the backpack, along with four other items that replace things that were in the backpack. To figure out what replaced what, I had to have the Avatar hold each of the items in his hand, the only single slot that can contain anything.
  • My spellbook was replaced with a chunk of pumice.
  • My Black Sword was replaced with a ruddy rock.
  • My glass sword was replaced with a pinecone.
  • The blackrock serpent was replaced by a pair of fine stockings.
  • A hunk of mutton was replaced by a bottle of ice wine.
  • A leg of meat was replaced by 83 filari, a currency from one of the cities. Shamino's note oddly doesn't mention the money. This is the only trade in which I came out ahead.
  • Rudyom's Wand was replaced by a strange apparatus.
  • My magic armor was replaced by an enameled breast plate, "suitable for ceremonial occasions."
  • My magic helm was replaced by a woman's fur cap. Shamino's note says it's "ridiculous." I think it's very practical and not obviously a woman's at all.
  • My magic gauntlets were replaced by a ring. Shamino's note says that it's a "finely crafted ring, of silver, of a size to fit a small woman or child." I don't know what to make of the Avatar wearing it, then.
  • Dupre's Magebane has been replaced by a blue egg.
  • Dupre's Shield has been replaced by a Shield of Monitor.
  • Shamino's 24 burst arrows were replaced with an odd hairbrush. "Crude," according to Shamino.
  • Shamino's dagger was replaced with a severed limb. The note clarifies that it's a "bloody hand." Actually, I suppose the hairbrush could have replaced the dagger and the hand could have replaced the burst arrows.
  • Shamino's swamp boots were replaced with a pair of slippers, "such as might be worn in the privacy of one's home."
  • Shamino's magic bow was replaced with a bear skull.
We'll add Iolo's stuff to the list when we get him back in the party, but I know what one of them will be. I look oddly forward to slowly finding the lost items and returning their replacements. It does seem odd that my party was so thoroughly afflicted in just a couple of seconds, though. In any event, having noted everything, I can move things around and equip the party properly. I think I'll put all the new items in a single chest to better keep track of them.
The Avatar's old and new equipment. The bedroll on my back and the pouch on my waist were found after the lightning strike.
Look at that. I've just finished my second entry on Serpent Isle of over 3,000 words, and I can't be more than 20 minutes into the game. It's nice to be writing about a game that's so thick with plot and NPCs. I hope you don't mind if it goes a little slow.
Time so far: 0 hours


  1. AlphabeticalAnonymousFebruary 9, 2023 at 12:26 PM

    Another great account so far - by all means, take this one slow and enjoy it after all the dreck you've been wading through recently.

    > Caladin is the commander of the Knights of the Bear

    So he's abandoned the Windrunners and Bridge Four *again* ?

    1. I think this is one of the first Cosmere references I've seen in the comments....well done sir!(Or madame)

    2. Yes, loving the playthrough and the level of detail, so far.

      I tend to play most CRPGs in a “boring” way, so it’s interesting seeing you trying stuff like removing the items before the storm happens or having the characters leave the party before the real game even starts.

      But I hope you reloaded after turning on that lamp…

    3. AlphabeticalAnonymousFebruary 10, 2023 at 9:56 AM

      @RayStryker: our host seems to be something of a fan, see e.g. and

      Sanderson will have really jumped the shark when he announces a multi-world, all-cosmere MMORPG...

    4. I am definitely a fan. I recognize a few weaknesses in his writing, but they're balanced by many, many strengths, and of course a super-human level of production. As much as I would still love to see a Mistborn RPG, his world-building is so good that I'd almost rather have an original setting whose mysterious the player could slowly uncover through observation, books, and conversation.

  2. Yeah, I could easily see this one going for more posts than the Black Gate.

    I seem to recall some other playthrough where someone tried to find every missing/teleported item.

  3. It's your blog, man. You don't need permission from a bunch of commenters to write about whatever you want. These sorts of blogs work best when the writer writes about whatever he thinks is interesting. It's going to be a game of some sort or another, and who cares what the topic is, anyway? Might as well have a lot of entries about the major games as it might quiet the people who only want to see gaming's greatest hits, even though obscure games are the best. Type-in games forever!

  4. I'd say the Thoxa encounter only makes any sense in a replay; in my first playthrough I found it utterly bizarre, and by the time (MUCH later) in the game where it becomes relevant, I had forgotten about it (and I'd expect the same for most players). The same applies to Ssithnos's book.

    If you fail to answer Thoxa's copy protection, every bit of dialogue in the game gets replaced by "Oink!" No, seriously.

    I did find the item swap a rather clever design. Incidentally, I'm unclear how lightning manages to hit Caladin's urn in a crypt underground.

    1. I think the encounter with Thoxa is meant to be bewildering, but I think it also suffers from the Ultima VII engine not really being designed for in-engine cutscenes like that. I think

    2. (oops)... that a modern game would stretch out the intro a bit so the teleport storm didn't happen the moment you got off the boat and the Thoxa encounter didn't happen immediately after that. If you've ever looked at the debug map for the game, they clearly had to do a lot of awkward scripting to make the opening work.

      Incidentally, the Serpent Isle cluebook is written as an in-universe travelogue by Thoxa. It's possible players might have already learned more about her that way:

    3. I think it’s worth mentioning that the monk fight should be the first use of an scripted scene (where the game removes control from the player and plays a cutscene in the engine itself) in the Ultima 7 engine; as far as I remember, all plot advancement and major scenes in The Black Gate were relayed through the dialogue interface and outside of it the player always had control.

    4. Alagner's crystal ball lets you view an in-engine cutscene, and there's a couple of brief ones in the Forge of Virtue expansion. If you look into how the Alagner one is implemented you can see why they didn't do it more often -- they had to make multiple copies of his workshop and stash them away in mountains! The engine has no concept of loading or unloading maps/scenes/levels. Everything exists in one giant scene.

    5. The U7 engine could have easily been coded for cutscenes (adventure games easily did that five years earlier) but it wasn't.

      I'd say the reason is that U7 is written for a huge continuous world, that is detailed and graphically impressive (and to be fair, that IS a huge accomplishment) but they paid little attention to e.g. combat or cutscenes. Wouldn't be the first design that puts graphics over mechanics.

    6. U7 engine is kind of what you get when the developers have overdosed on simulationism. There is exactly one instance of every NPC in the world, and they all already exist at the start of the game. They can't be created or destroyed. So everybody you encounter in the Black Gate endgame is just sitting there patiently in the gate chamber (the Batlin you find there is different from the Batlin in Britain) until you trigger their dialogue by entering the room. When you kill an NPC they're teleported away to a limbo area on the map and replaced with a corpse object. Lots of weird stuff like that.

    7. Why couldn't they just make a character that looks the same but isn't actually, say, Batlin?

  5. Brendann does indeed hang with "loose women" in that every woman he sleeps with (and there's several) also has another lover. Of course, that makes Brendann a loose man himself.

    I think the three Commands of Monitor represent love (philanderers), courage (dumb brutes), and truth (bureaucrats); in a subtle nod that Empath Abbey / Serpent's Hold / The Lycaeum do it better.

    1. Because only dumb brutes can display courage, or what's the reasoning going on here ;)

    2. I remember thinking that there was a LOT of free-stylin' sleeping around amongst the Knights of Monitor... In fact, I don't think any of them are actually married to each other?

    3. Harnna refers to herself as a "widow" and to Cantra's dead father as her "husband". But it does seem like Marsten and Astrid's "bedmates, not lovers" arrangement is more commonplace. Not like Monitor is unusual in this regard among the three cities.

    4. Good point: a number of NPCs in this game are open about their nonmonagamous sex life, and several will hit on the Avatar and explicitly ask for sex. I know several older RPGs that offer a romance plot and/or prostitutes, but in terms of casual sex in-game, is this a first?

    5. "I think the three Commands of Monitor represent love (philanderers), courage (dumb brutes), and truth (bureaucrats); in a subtle nod that Empath Abbey / Serpent's Hold / The Lycaeum do it better." That's an interesting thought, but it strikes me that the three cities are already meant to offer such a comparison. Still the three commands clearly do relate to the three attributes (Bears = strength; Wolves = dexterity; Leopards = intelligence), which of course also have ties to the three principles of virtue. I wonder if we find similar groupings of three in the other two cities.

    6. The three groups make a lot of sense from a crunchy game design standpoint: Monitor is where you can train and increase your attributes. Therefore, there must be options available for all three main attributes.

    7. It's true that the two Bear trainers increase Strength and the two Wolf trainers increase Dexterity, but there's no Leopard trainer. In fact, there's no Intelligence trainer at all in the base game. (But the Avatar starts off with very high Intelligence anyway.)

    8. I kind of took the cities to represent anti-virtues. Moonshade = opposite of Moonglow - so Moonshade seems the opposite of truth/honesty, though even Moonglow's mages rely on deception as I suppose most magic would (to some degree). They imprison political prisoners in a mountain to starve to death. Moonshade is cowardice. Or in Ultima-ese, perhaps Destardice, or something destardly like that.

      Fawn is the opposite of truth - the city of beauty (beauty = truth) told lies about Dupre which led to some trouble.

      Monitor, city of courage, seems to be about hatred as the Bears, Leopards, and Wolves all seem to hate each other.

      But that's just one interpretation. I think they took the cities and anti-virtues and mixed them up, as every city has some mixture of hate (Monitorians hate goblins, Moonshade hates everyone), deception (Moonshade and Monitor), and cowardice (Monitor is xenophobic, Fawn is terrified of it's own rulers).

      But that's too simplistic. You're not in Brittania anymore.

  6. I kinda figured that by adhering to a single virtue (and not even a "proper" one) the suggestion is that they are somewhat incomplete compared to the full Britannian virtue system (or perhaps lacking balance, for the local Ophidian system?). It is interesting to see various communities that have somewhat gone astray in a quasi-religious sense. I suppose in the history of Britannia, Magincia would be the equivalent?

    Had to chuckle at (rot13) gur pncgvba sbe gur perzngbevhz: "Vg'f gbb onq Qhcer'f abg urer gb frr guvf."

    1. Conspiracy theory: the whole Virtue System was really a “Golgafrincham Ark Ship B” kind of play, devised by Lord British to get rid of some undesirables, which went a bit too far.

    2. I like it.

      LORD BRITISH: "We're going to follow the 8 virtues from now on. Those who don't will be disemboweled!"

      Disgruntled people board ships and leave.

      LORD BRITISH: "Just kidding about the disembowelment. It will be totally voluntary."

    3. BLACKTHORN: "Disembowelment, huh? Great idea, just wait 'til I'm in charge!"

    4. DRAXINUSOM: "Wait, what? You didn't even disembowel anyone over the thing that destroyed our homeworld? Your lack of Passion and Diligence disgusts me! Time to remedy that!"

  7. Also I should add, it's been so long since I last played this (maybe ten years? how time flies), that it really is nice to see you go into the details a bit, brings back a lot of fond memories. I had already forgotten how quickly you get reunited with your party, for some reason I forgot that Dupre just turned up there.

  8. "There's probably no direct association, but it's an interesting coincidence."

    Given Mr. Martin's track record of freely borrowing from historical events as well as high fantasy tropes, there probably is.

    No snark here, I can vividly imagine a younger G.R.R. feverishly playing through 'Serpent Isle' when it was first released.

  9. I always disliked how linear and forced Serpent Isle felt. I have never beaten, actually, because of this. VII mainline was so open and refreshing, to the point you could even skip ahead and break the game if you are creative.

    1. I was heard U7 described as a linear game that feels non-linear and U7:2 as a non-linear game that feels linear. I think you are actually able to complete the quests of the 3 main towns in any order. Though the later part of the game is pretty linear IIRC.

    2. I agree with Tim that the SI is non-linear until you hit one particular plot point and then it becomes very linear. In my opinion, that is also the point where the game becomes tedious.

    3. Is that also where the dropped content (rush out the door or budget cuts?) becomes noticable?

    4. I'd say that comes later.

      Va zl ivrj, nyy gur pbagrag sebz tbeyno fjnzc gb gung sberfg jvgu gur vaivapvoyr rivy enatre gb gur gnyxvat vprornef gb gur inzcver va gur pelcgf vf nyy jryy-qrirybcrq ohg vg'f svyyre naq veeryrinag gb gur cybg. Gura lbh svtug ongyva, naq nsgre gung gur npghny cybg pbagvahrf jvgu gur onarf, naq ng gung cbvag gur qebccrq pbagrag vf irel abgvprnoyr.

      Fb V'q fnl gur qrigrnz fubhyq unir fxvccrq nyy gung svyyre naq fcrag gvzr ba gur guerr pvgvrf jura gur onarf ner va punetr. Vg jbhyq unir znqr sbe zhpu orggre cnpvat.

    5. The one specific thing I feel like they could have most easily left out is the part that is clearly meant to be this game's teaser for Pagan. (I don't think mentioning that is a spoiler, considering that the previous two games had Pagan teasers as well.) It's kind of mind-blowing how much effort they spent building hype for that game.

    6. I remember having been seriously hyped up about the game for YEARS when it came out. That turned into disappointment over a miserable week playing the game as it first came out. Never got much beyond the first (earth) questline / dungeon crawl.

  10. Not sure if you recalled, but sometimes you can smash open locked chests by attacking them.

    I really loved the beginning of this game through the entire first town. And then it always went downhill from there until I eventually always just quit. I remember thinking there was just way too much NPC dialog to wade through. In contrast to U7, which I beat multiple times, I could never finish this one.

    But every time I tried again I always enjoyed the beginning.

    1. I feel pretty much the opposite way. Black Gate frustrates me because there's so little to actually do in the world. You're the Avatar and there's a lot of obvious bad stuff going on and you can only barely scratch the surface. And I don't mean that in the sense of "one person can only do so much", but in the sense that the Britannian Mining Company is using drugged slaves to mine blackrock for an evil conspiracy and you cannot even mention it to Lord British. Ultima had three games in a row without final bosses, and then they did a game where the one solution offered to all the world's ills is "stop the big red guy". Serpent Isle at least tells me a story where the Avatar is playing a role that makes sense.

      (I think Ultima VII is a great game despite this.)

    2. Agree 100% Mr asimpkins, that was always my experience as well. Still think Chet will have a fun time though.

    3. Agree about the NPC dialogue. Also, isn't it written in a very different style than U7? Much more verbose and mundane? I liked the writing in U7, but I immediately disliked the writing style in Serpent Isle and stopped playing. I was wondering why this difference is rarely mentioned.

    4. Yes, verbose and mundane. And, it's been a while, but I think also repetitive? You would talk to one guy that would go on and on about some aspect of lore and then the next guy would do the same thing. Perhaps I should have skipped it, but I always liked to exhaust dialog trees to make sure I didn't miss anything. But it turned into a massive chore, until I was barely even skim reading, and then I would be so disconnected from the game that I would quit.

      (But that makes me excited to see the game through in this blog's format.)

      In contrast, the U7 dialog trees were brief and efficient without feeling simple. They quickly gave you a sense of the person and their place in the story and the information you needed to advance. Everyone had a clear reason for being there. I generally don't like reading tons of text when gaming, but I always enjoyed talking to all the NPCs in U7, even on replays.

    5. Serpent Isle has these "information NPCs" who basically serve to give you a single source for detailed information about each area. The problem with them is that most of the stuff they tell you is a summary of what other NPCs will tell you in depth. So it's pretty easy to go through, say, Harnna's enormous dialogue tree, and then you spend the rest of your time in Monitor being told things you've already heard. The game does try to keep you from doing this by making the information NPCs cut you off after a while, but I think that ends up just being a roadbump for people with that 100% drive.

      But yes, the game is extremely dialogue-heavy, and there are a lot more prolonged back-and-forths between NPCs. One of the many bits of polish this game could have used was a solid round of script editing.

    6. I agree with much of what stepped pyramids is saying. It was enormously frustrating in U7P1 not to be able to solve many of the obvious ills right in front of the player. Yet I get the impression that U7P2's solution was to remove those moments and offer a more linear, deterministic game rather than improving the role-playing system.

    7. Yep. I see part 1 and part 2 both as games with great ambitions that fell short in different ways. A game that combined the strengths of both and avoided the weaknesses would have been truly great and ahead of its time. I don't think any game really cleared that bar until the mid-90s (but I'm looking forward to see if one turns up on this blog!).

    8. for everyone repeating about part 2 being "linear", I didn't find it that linear at all

      maybe I'm just good at sequence breaking? did I come from the berestein bears universe?

      I think part 2 gives better clues about where to go next rather than just having you wander wherever, but you can certainly deviate quite a bit

    9. I certainly have somewhat of a 100% drive, but for this game it's also practical. Advancement is frequently unlocked by reaching certain dialog points, so if you aren't thorough then you risk getting stuck.

      But yeah, it would be interesting to retry this game with a list of inessential, wiki-dump NPCs that I could safely ignore. It might make the chit-chat more bearable.

  11. A warning about the ice wine: if you use the Silver Seed hotkey "F" to feed your party, there's a good chance you'll end up drinking it by mistake, like I did on my first playthrough. Nesting it inside another container won't protect it.

    On my second trip through the game I figured out how I'd lost it the first time and spent a good chunk of the game manually feeding my party to protect the silly thing. In hindsight, maybe I should've just dropped it at mealtimes instead.

    1. Is there any reason to worry about keeping it? It replaces a piece of food, right?

    2. Well, our author *did* indicate a desire to track everything down, and you get better clues when asking about the items if you have them with you. But no, the wine is totally inessential. Even if you lose the bottle you can eventually figure out where it came from.

      Spoiler (such as it is): Gur jvar pbzrf sebz gur enatref va Zbbafunqr, ohg vs V erzrzore pbeerpgyl (20 lrnef yngre) lbh trg nofbyhgryl abguvat bhg bs fubjvat vg gb gurz. V qba'g guvax lbh rira unir gur bcgvba gb erghea vg be trg nal vagrerfgvat qvnybthr bhg bs vg. Fb vg'f cbvagyrff rkprcg sbe nafjrevat gur dhrfgvba, "Qvq V zvff fbzrguvat ol nppvqragnyyl qevaxvat vg?" jvgu n svez, "Ab."

    3. I didn't even know about that hotkey. I'll avoid it.

    4. And yes, I think it would be a fun bit of "sur-playing" to put everything back where it came from.

    5. The Silver Seed hotkeys (F for Feed, W for pocket Watch, K for Keyring and P for Pick) are really pretty handy. And F becomes even better if lbh trg gur Riresybjvat Tboyrg va Sheanpr; sbbq prnfrf gb or n pbaprea sbe gur erfg bs gur tnzr. But apparently no one at Origin noticed that the new hotkey would make you eat a minor quest item.

  12. Obligatory mention that Spektor is a reference to (and uses the face of) Warren Spector of Origin and later Deus Ex fame. You also met him as Johannes Spector in Savage Empire.

    1. Quite a few NPC portraits in this game and Underworld II are based on photographs, often of SCA members. Shamino is Garriott's SCA persona, Dupre is an SCA friend of his, Marsten and Caladin were Origin staff, etc.

      Personally I much prefer the NPC portraits of Ultima VII: The Black Gate and Ultima VI. Faces that look like TV actors in a fantasy game -- not ideal for immersion, IMO.

  13. Like others have said, take all the time in the world (or however long you want) to talk about this game. May not be my favorite, but it's been nearly 30 years since I played it, so this is a wonderful trip down memory lane. Nostalgia's a helluva drug.

  14. Man I hate it when magical lightning distributes my items accessibly around an island, leaving in their place some sort of clue. Sure hope it only happens just this once, at the beginning of my journey.

    Ultima games appear ambivalent about how seriously they want you to take them. It seems a bit jarring.

    1. Not going to argue that it isn't contrived, but it's established that sea travel puts you at particular danger from the teleport storms. The concept would work better if there were occasional random storms throughout the game, and that seems to have been an idea (there's even a "Stop Storm" spell that does nothing), but the Ultima VII engine is not really suited to that kind of random scripted event.

      They do try to toss in regular storm-related events throughout the game, at least.

    2. Well, lightning never strikes the same spot twice, isn’t it?

      Jokes aside, the game establishes teleport storm events relatively well during the game, both in dialogue and in-game events.

      Yes, it’s very convenient to happen during the beginning in that way, but it’s a more effective contrivance than the trope “Heroes sent to save the world in their underwear and wooden swords” which is standard for CRPGs.

      There is clearly a lot of inconsistent, contrived stuff in Ultima lore, but also because it’s one of the few (original IP) series of the era that put some effort in it.

    3. "Sure hope it only happens just this once, at the beginning of my journey." That's my objection, too, although it's not so strong that it damages my enjoyment of the plot. Still, I wish the developers had done something at the beginning to make that moment unique--maybe had the lightning strike while the party was still at sea, for instance, or while crossing some special Ophidian ruin.

    4. Lightning switching items still happens throughout the game, it just doesn't hit the Avatar and party anymore. Which is reasonably realistic as the saying goes that "lightning never strikes twice on the same place"

    5. I'm the one who comes by with the obligatory pointing out that lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, because it discharges along the path of least resistance, which is generally a tall conductive structure, i.e a lightning rod.

      You are collectively welcome.

    6. Yes, but we're not dealing with real lightning here. We're dealing with lightning designed by imperfect humans in the pre-Internet era who probably believed that lightning never strikes the same place twice.

    7. Well, since we're splitting hairs, technically speaking it wouldn't strike the same 'place' if it hit the Avatar again, just the same person who is moving around and very likely not in the spot where he (or she) was hit the first time... and I doubt the Avatar is supposed to be one of the tallest and/or most conductive 'structures' in that world.

      But since this is all fiction and magic anyway, as author you could have lightning strike wherever and whenever it suits you.

  15. Barely half an hour playing Ultima VII Part 2?
    Addict, ’tis thy worst fear!

    Seriously, spent as much time with this little gem that was so much in front of others. While it may feel a bit railroaded at times, there’s imo still a lot of freedom, a really fresh world to explore, some crazy stuff going on, and some excellent world-building to enjoy!
    It gives such a cozy atmosphere of going through a ‚real story‘, that wasn’t even reached by Fallout & Baldur‘s Gate (Planescape: Tomrent runs out of competition), but in my memory I had the first comparable (and then better) CRPG trip of a similar style with KOTOR.

    So for heaven’s sake cherish every moment.

  16. "My magic helm was replaced by a woman's fur cap. Shamino's note says it's "ridiculous." I think it's very practical and not obviously a woman's at all."

    It is a fur hat for women. Just google images for "russian fur hat" and see for yourself. Although Mongols might have another opinion on that matter.

    1. I worked with a Russian guy who wore a fur hat that looks exactly like this. If I Google "Russian fur hat" like you suggest, I get pictures of many men wearing the same hat.

    2. There are some subtle differences between men's and women's fur hats. Men's tend to be shorter (and generally smaller) and typically made from shorter trimmed fur. It's impossible to tell from the pixellated sprite, obviously, but the general fluffiness of it makes me also think women's more so than men's.
      Although the real reason it's ridiculous is because wearing it in summer (going by the green grass and trees in the screenshots) would give you a heat stroke in under 10 minutes.

  17. The Black Gate sound track was already excellent, but Serpent Isle adds a few extra quality tracks. I remember one of them is played once you enter that secret cave near the red bushes

  18. I wonder if replacing Shamino's dagger with a severed limb is a pun on "main gauche"?

  19. When I played this game I thought it was the first one that came up with the trope of "you start with an overpowered party but lose your power and have to regain it" but then I realized Curse of the Azure Bonds did that a few years ago. Is there an earlier example before Curse of this trope?

    I also find it amusing how everyone gets so offended over something that happened over 300 years ago in their chronology. That's like an American getting offended over a British person saying something about George III (the king during the revolutionary war). Unless the people of Serpent Isle know that Lord British is one of the people who age slowly and that he is still the king?

    1. I was just thinking the opposite, that geopolitical rivalries can deeply embed in a culture and last hundreds of years, particularly if they're also given religious or ideological significance. Strife between Catholics and Protestants in Europe lasted for a similar length of time, for example.

    2. If you replace "King George III" with "the King of England", and assume that the US and Britain had no contact between independence and an emissary of the King showing up at your doorstep, it feels less odd.

      The people of Serpent Isle don't necessarily assume that it is the same Lord British (unless I'm forgetting something later), but they might well be assuming it is his many-great-grandson seeking to secure what the original LB lost.

  20. Please, go as slow as you like with this one. I struggle with anxiety, and this blog is entertaining and relaxing - like watching MST3K. It’s a source of solace for me. Thank you!

  21. The set up here seems really cool, I might have to have a go at this one. For years I've attempted to get into various Ultima games but always bounce off. Mostly because of Britannia and Lord British.

    As a kid it was because it just came across as really silly in a fantasy world and kind of brought me out of the fantasy (maybe because I'm British). Then later when I learnt that the character was the designers alter-ego and he had the name because he was slightly less American than the people around him it made it even harder to get into the game. Ultima 6 has everything I usually look for in a game but rule britannia playing at the start just kills my enthusiasm every time.

    I appreciate that this is my problem, the series took Garriot to the stars. I'm happy with Trebor, Werdna and Skara Brae but for whatever reason, somewhere in my brain Ultima takes a step too far making the series almost unplayable to me. The only one I've gotten through is Ultima Underworld and that's because it's a lot more underworld than ultima.

    1. I am spanish and the same thing happened to me. Also back then it was something else that itched me about the setting, finally i undestood that the characters and the society had a very modern behaviour, compounded by the lack of any "true" religion. Well, at least it was not an AD&Desque world.

    2. I'm not sure when the series establishes that Lord British is literally from Earth - he's a transplant much like the Avatar. I know that's absolutely a thing, but I can't remember when it was introduced.

    3. The Ultima V manual tells the story of pre-"Lord" British entering a moongate from Earth, meeting Shamino (and being named "British" by him after saying he was born in "Cambridge, in the British Isles"), and eventually becoming a king. This is also where it's established that Iolo and Dupre are from Earth and that time flows differently in Britannia.

      At this point the retcon that the Strangers of the first three games were the same as the Avatar had not yet happened (that was in VI). Interestingly, the manual doesn't even say any of the Strangers in the first four games were from Earth! But some of the weird stuff in II was already being quietly dropped -- none of the time travel or Earth stuff is mentioned.

    4. I always found the whole "Time works differently in Britannia" thing to be extremely odd. What's the point of this conceit that decades or centuries pass in Britannia? You still meet all the same companions and NPCs every time, and the world itself only changes in plot-time. You don't show up in VI to find that a cathedral started in V is finally completed, or that the children you met in IV are great-grandparents now. The "time is different" aspect seems to mean little more than "This world's year is only about six weeks long"

    5. It's not a big deal in VI, but it having been generations since the Avatar was last in Britannia is a huge plot point in VII. You're constantly meeting people who don't believe the Avatar exists (anymore) and the Fellowship grew into the space left by a loss of belief in the Virtues.

    6. It was probably also meant to a) explain how the Avatar could adventure for years in Britannia, then somehow return to a normal life back on Earth; b) make more explicit the vaguely Narnian nature of Britannia.

  22. Playing this right now. The amount of text irritates me a lot because a lot of it is reiterative and superfluous. The Silver Seed puzzles are also very irritating. It all feels very gamey. I am not the biggest fan of Black Gate, but that game felt way more alive and less artificial.

    1. I don't mind the amount of text as such but it's sure hard to summarize in blog postings. Plus, NPCs have a way of going on and on when there's urgent business at hand.

  23. I have been loving U4-U7 since the dawn of time (aka the 80's), and am really enjoying reading you playing these games.
    Regarding U7:SI, I think there are so many bits and pieces missing that to this day I think it is a tremendously big achievement that they were able to ship a complete game.
    Today, this would have a day 1 patch that basically turns the whole game upside down.
    It is a shame that the source code for both games got lost.
    Our Ultima Dragon community still would love to get our claws into that and *fix* the game.
    The Exult project is doing an awesome job on this with the possibilities that they have.
    Still, it has a big place in my heart.

  24. After months of reading you playing Serpent Isle, I finally succumbed to the temptation and started playing it again.

    I'm playing a female Avatar. It seems there is a different way of freeing Iolo. I refused to take the Knight's Test. And when I spoke with Lord Spektor, and he gave me the option of paying Iolo's fine (30 monetari) and Iolo was free.

    After picking Iolo up from the jail, we left Monitor and went to Sleeping Bull.

    All the Gwenno related information points at Moonshade and Monk Isle, so it feels appropriate for Avatar not to get too interested in local politics just yet.

    1. That's cool. I wonder if you can avoid taking the test completely. I'm not sure from my own notes if anything prevents you from going through the goblin dungeons and getting the Helm of Monitor without having take the knight's test.

    2. You can pay the fine to Spektor regardless of the Avatar's gender. Certain NPCs won't talk to you until you've done the Knight's Test, so that may block you from getting the key to the goblin dungeon; it will certainly prevent you from dealing with the tower guards at the Sleeping Bull, which you need t oget to Moonshade.

    3. I'm already in Moonshade. No Knight's Test needed for Bull Tower. They just want the gold bars. :)

      I wasn't even thinking that gender has anything to do with Spektor releasing Iolo for a fine. It's just I've never thought of trying it before.

      I am trying to postpone the Knight's Test as long as possible... but I think as they say in Spider-Verse, it's a canon event. Cantra getting kidnapped is connected with that quest.

      Spektor releasing Iolo for a fine is an intended alternative, but I suspect, that even if I find a way to not do the Knight's Test and progress past Gorlab Swamp, it wasn't intended like that.

    4. It's still always fun to push the envelope on how "open world" an open-world game truly is.

    5. Update on trying to avoid the Knight's Test.

      So I did Moonshade first and my Avatar was level 7. I didn't do any extra grinding and I even skipped half of Furnace (didn't do the Test and left by Serpent Gate to Monitor), but apparently Moonshade part of the game gives way too much experience points.

      The fun part is that I can cast high level spells, like level 7 Vibrate. I guess it's a good opportunity to cast it on every character, before their proper plot triggers, and see what is available for the player.

      I cast it on Simon the Innkeeper... and nothing. His inventory is empty. I reload and kill him. The same. But when you do it inside the inn, he will drop the inn key. But if he is outside of the inn, his inventory is empty.

      The chest in his room is indestructible, I try weapons and explosion, nothing works.

      The goblin camp in the forest near Fawn doesn't have the Fawnish Ale, which betrays Simon's true identity.

      So it seems for Simon to have necessary plot items in his inventory (and also for the Fawnish Ale to appear in the goblin forest camp), you must do the Knight's Test.

      Vibrate works on Shmed and he drops the Knight's Test key, so you can do the Test with all of your companions in the party. Which is kinda an alternative solution for a distrustful Avatar.

      But everything else in the Test is the same, Shmed will even come at the end and expresses his surprise that you still live and tries to kill you. So otherwise the plot triggers work exactly the same.

      If you kill him before the Test, then the final door will open on it's own but outside the dungeon, you will see a half-spawned Shmed coming out from the ground, frozen in permanent broken code, beside his own corpse.

      Also, I visited the Dream Realm before the Knight's Test and Cantra's dream is exactly the same. I guess the dream is vague enough that a player could just think "damn, this girl is haunted"... but I think the designers meant for the player to experience Cantra's dream after her kidnapping.

  25. I'm lookkng forward to the next 8 months of entries from this point!


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