Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Serpent Isle: Wolf Like Me

I feel like Shamino is being passive-aggressive here, but I don't know what it's about.
The Britannians are in Monitor, but Iolo is in jail. Lord Marsten won't release him to us because we're not knights, and non-knights have no status in this town. Before we do anything, I have the Avatar equip Iolo's two-handed hammer and bust apart the locked chest we found in the cave. It spills out 6 gold coins, a shield, a sword, and leather boots. I give the boots to Shamino to replace the slippers he ended up with after the lightning storm. I arm him with a sling while Dupre gets the hammer. I then pile all the new items in a single chest and give it to Dupre to carry. Shamino gets all the food and torches. The Avatar gets the money and quest items.
You have to admire how Origin stuck by the inventory system that everyone hated.
Off we go, working around the city in a clockwise pattern. Since we can't know what drawer or table some of the items (e.g., silk stockings, slippers, a hairbrush) could have come from, we search everything--but of course we don't steal. 
Even though we could really use this stuff.
People we meet:
  • Cellia of Cellia's Fine Furs. She won't speak to us because we're not knights.
  • Krayg the Provisioner. He likes to take walks in the woods, where he's found many ancient ruins depicting the Sign of the Serpent. He'll buy leather goods from us and sells the same, plus adventuring items like belts, backpacks, shovels, torches, bedrolls, picks, jerky, and hard-tack. We have no money yet, so we move on. He has a lot of locked chests; I hope our items didn't end up in any of those.
  • Standarr the Armourer. He buys chain and plate armor and sells a variety of weapons and armor.
  • Widow Harnna. She's the town healer, though careful to explain that she heals with herbs, not magic. She lives next to a large vegetable field, where she grows her own food and often sells it. Her husband was killed by goblins, and her daughter, Cantra, is about to take the Knight's Test. She's in the midst of telling us about the people in town when she suddenly decides it's time for bed and kicks us out.
  • Cantra. A 14-year-old girl, daughter of Harnna. We learn from her that her father is technically only missing, not confirmed dead, but it's been several weeks. That still seems early for her mother to have affixed "Widow" to the beginning of her name. Anyway, Cantra is training to take the Knight's Test when she turns 15. She says that the test takes place in the mountains north of the city: "Thou must follow the trail that leads west from the highway" and beware of goblins. You can enter with only a mace and leather armor, and no companions. She has three tips for the various phases of the test. She follows us around town.
Your portrait doesn't exactly help dispel that notion.
  • Lucilla, proprietor of the Slashing Sword, the town pub. She flirts a bit, but won't speak to us in detail because we're not knights.
  • Spektor, the town treasurer. We spoke to him last time, but now we take the time to exchange our gold coins for the "monetari" that the Monitorians use.
  • Brendann. Leader of the Command of the Wolf. He plans to recover the Helm of Monitor and take up the mantle of Champion Knight. He has nothing more to say until we become knights. 
As long as your motives are pure.
  • Simon. Oldest person in town and owner of the inn. He's a widower, his wife having been killed decades ago by goblins (he says that most Monitorians eventually die at the hands of goblins). He confirms that Batlin and Gwenno were in town recently. Batlin showed a lot of interest in the ancient ruins and spent a lot of time talking to Andral, the sculptor. Simon believes he left for Sleeping Bull, along with "a warrior, a sailor, and a hooded man." Standarr spent time with the warrior; Shazzana with the sailor (named Deadeye), and the way he describes the "hooded man" clearly indicates that it's a gargoyle. Gwenno left for the east to visit the Xenkan Monks. The Avatar agrees to try some Fawn Ale and promptly pukes. Templar knows more about goblins, and some think there's a traitor in town, selling secrets to them. Simon suspects Krayg.
  • Andral. The town sculptor is on edge, as Batlin and his companions apparently stole a relic from his home when they left. It was a blackrock serpent; as Shamino points out, it's a perfect match for the one I had, except facing the opposite way. He says the warrior was named Brunt. He finally says that a Monitorian knight named Wilfred the Slayer went after Batlin's party, suspecting they had an involvement in the disappearance of Wilfred's father.
Do you need to be here, Shamino?
There are fewer books in town than in Britannia, but there are a few:
  • Fighting is an Art by Johnson. A treatise on combat, with such gems as: "Anyone caught running away from battle should be put to the sword immediately, lest others feel that they may let their womanish fears prevail." Again, even women must be knights in this town. Why do they put up with it?
  • The House of the Unicorn by Gannt. A silly poem about unicorns by someone with no sense of rhyme or rhythm.
  • Principles of Economics by Hyle. A surprisingly long textbook on economic theory that doesn't seem to have anything specific to do with the Ultima series. You could read this to business students and they'd nod.
  • No Such Thing as Fairies by Gannt. Another poem. This Gannt has some issues.
Gannt: Serpent Isle's worst poet.
  • The Dwellers of Serpent Isle by Byman. A history of the setting, recounting how "the man-daemon Lord British" imposed his will on the Sosarians 250 years ago, causing several factions to flee to Serpent Isle.
  • The Crying Lute by Gannt. The poem recounts a knight's grief at losing his lover to a goblin attack, ending with: "I will sit here by the fire and softly strum / Only my lute knows the hollow man I have finally become." I know I've said it before: Unless you're writing blank verse, meter is as important as rhyme.
  • Guide to Knighthood by Graeme of Monitor. A lot of talk about courage.
  • Courageous Deeds by Andrew of Monitor. Describes how when the Sosarians arrived at Serpent Isle, they squabbled over who should be first to step on the new land. While those of Fawn and Monitor argued, the mages simply teleported themselves. The whole band was then attacked by trolls, but Kosric and Pedigar, the lords of the old Monitors, fought them off. Last session, we found both Kosric and Pedigar's ashes in the crypts. The epithet "Thunderbolts from above" attached to Kosric makes more sense as Andrew tells us that "Thunderbolt" was the name of his sword.
Other notes from town exploration:
  • I sleep on the street one night, as I haven't found the inn by the time it gets dark and don't have any local money anyway. As in The Black Gate, I don't know what my companions do while I sleep.
What do you mean "we"? What are you all going to be doing in the meantime?
  • There's a constant thunderstorm going. The lightning strikes and the squawk that accompany them are so annoying that I turn the sound off after a while.
  • There's no east wall to the town; there's a mountain range there instead.
  • Double-clicking on a flute causes some flutish notes to play. But double-clicking on a harp or lute just causes an image of notes to appear on screen.  
  • Spektor has one of those ball-clicker things on his desk and you can double-click on it to set it in motion.
  • NPCs have small conversations with each other, like an early version of what we get in games like Oblivion. I guess they did this in The Black Gate, too. I just didn't note it there. 
At least no one's seen a mudcrab lately.
  • There's a cat named Smudge running around town. If I double-click on it, Shamino says that he hates cats.
What's wrong with you?
  • On the south shore is a dock with a derelict ship, but its gangplank is up, so I can't access the hold. I wonder if the "Telekinesis" spell exists in this game.
I'll bet all my stuff is in that hold.
  • A couple of large facilities in town have their doors locked: the Banquet Hall and the List Field. I can see knights on the List Field, but I can't get to them to talk with them.
  • Streets in Monitor: Banquet Street, Bear Street, Dock Street, Kosric Road, Leopard Street, Melina Street, North Gate Street, Pedigar Street, Town Hall Road, Warriors Road, West Gate Road, Wolf Street.
The wall of Wolf Street.
I haven't spoken to everyone, but some of them are behind locked doors during the day, so I decide to head out and try the Knight's Test. The North Gate guard opens the portcullis and we head up the stone road. We pass a three-story tower with a guard on the roof before a road branches off to the west with a sign saying "Knight's Test." The road ends at a house, where Shmed sits alone at a table. We give him the password. He gives the Avatar a mace and leather armor, taking his other belongings, and insists that Dupre and Shamino stay behind. Shmed leads me to the test. As he shuts the door behind me, he lets out an ominous chuckle.
Hmmm . . bear, leopard, or wolf. Any chance I could be a Knight of the Cow?
Both Caladin and Cantra have given me some clues. "In the first chamber," Caladin said, "speed is the clue. Do not look back, or ye'll be a goner."  Cantra said the same thing. Thus, as I move down the hallway and the explosions start, I just keep running. 
I'm not sure how this tests my combat abilities.
The corridor ends in a locked door, but there's a passage to the south, which I take. Suddenly, two "magic gremlins" appear out of nowhere, shouting "KAL XEN," and attack. I'm not prepared for the ensuing combat, and while I fumble for the "Combat" key, they actually manage to kill me! 
I'm resurrected among the Xenkan Monks. Karnax is there, apparently not dead. He starts saying something to me, but I just click through the conversation until I get to a point that I can reload. On a second try, I kill the little bastards, although I have to chase one down the hallway. The body of one of them disappears, but the other has two black pearls. 
This doesn't feel very knightly.
A locked chest sits in the corner beyond where the gremlins attacked. I beat at it with my mace until it breaks open, spilling out a golden key. I return to the locked door, unlock it, and move on.
I come to a junction with doors to my north, south, and east. The north door is the only one unlocked, and my key doesn't work on the others. The north door leads to a large room with a stone pillar and a red key on top of it. Large, flat rocks are scattered throughout the room. Clearly, I'm meant to build a stairway up to the key. "Look upwards," Cantra had said. "Be prepared to climb."
The game is just showing off its physics.
But the room has another surprise: snakes hide beneath the rocks. The snakes die in one hit, but they get in a few hits of their own. By the time I finish stacking the rocks high enough to reach the key, I have 3 hit points left and I'm poisoned. The poison soon wears off.
Back at the intersection, the key opens the south door. A short corridor leads to a large room with fireballs shooting from the north to south wall. With another "KAL XEN," a cyclops appears. After a couple of deaths and reloads, I note that he seems oddly uninterested in attacking me. I walk past him, get the next key, then return to the intersection, closing the door behind me. At this point, I note that I have 5 hit points. I had forgotten that hit points regenerate on their own. I wait around until I'm up to 10, then return and kill the cyclops as I don't like leaving enemies in my backpath.
For some reason, I thought it was important to include a picture of the Avatar opening a door with a key.
The last door opens to a north/south corridor. The north branch soon ends at a locked door. A sack in front of the door has yellow (healing) and red (cure poison) potions. The south one twists around to a room with a couple of chests. Lighting bolts and fireballs shoot from the walls as I pass, but they miss. The four chests are trapped and empty. Cantra had warned me that "some things are invisible," so I search the walls and find a secret passage, which leads to the next key.
Next room: a lever opens a passage to a large room with a bunch of mice that I slaughter. There's a key in the mouse room and another in the lever room; they unlock the next two doors. After the second, the dungeon splits into north, south, and west paths. I take the northern one. It winds around (fireballs shooting from the walls) to a table with a claw and a note which advises me to prove my dedication by using the claw on myself. I'd be suspicious, but Caladin had said something similar. 
I continue exploring. Another cyclops appears in a corridor, and even though my hit points have regenerated to 17 by now, it takes me five reloads to kill him. I'm not sure I ever remember an Ultima game this hard. It's not like there are a lot of tactics I'm overlooking. I'm getting sick of clicking through that stupid dialogue with Karnak. When I finally kill him, the cyclops's body has a gold nugget and a club. Then, in another corridor, some invisible guy--or, rather, "sporadically visible guy"--in armor attacks and kills me instantly. I reload and wait to regenerate from the cyclops battle before I try again. That makes the Avatar start complaining about food, but at least I kill the warrior. A note on his body indicates he was hired by someone to kill me.
Never take a contract to kill someone who can reload.
Near the warrior's body is a secret door between two torches. It leads to the final room, where a note tells me to mingle my blood with the ashes of Gurnordir, the goblin king, in an urn on a table. I cut myself, use the claw on the urn, and a wolf appears. Fortunately, I'm able to kill him on the first try. I pick up its body (I assume I'll need its skin and meat) and head for the exit.
Using the claw on myself.
Shmed wanders in just as I reach the door. "How didst thou survive the Knight's Test?" he wonders. "We fixed the place with traps to be absolutely fatal." Little does he know. He then says that "she" seduced him into killing me and attacks me. It's three more reloads before I get out of there with a new set of chain armor and a two-handed sword. At Shmed's cottage, I reenlist Dupre and Shamino, eat my fill of some sausages, and reclaim my gear from a chest.
Well . . . you did a good job.
On my first time through Skyrim, once I finally got out of Cidhna Mine, I slaughtered everyone in the city of Markarth. All I can say is, the people of Monitor are lucky I'm the Avatar in this game. Still, I'm in a dark mood as I re-enter the city to look for an explanation. Unfortunately, no one has one. Caladin and Marsten just tell me to go to Lydia for my tattoo, Cellia to make a cloak out of the wolf carcass, and Lucilla to make a stew of its meat. I visit them in that order, not entirely happy about getting a permanent face tattoo just so I can free Iolo from jail. He owes me.
Cellia says it will be a day to make the cloak, so we head back outside to explore a bit around the city. But I'm no more than a few steps from the gate when I suddenly turn green, and my companions remark that I need a healer. Sighing, we turn around to go see Harnna. She says she can heal me temporarily, but to do so permanently, I'll need an ointment made from Varo leaves, which I can get from Delphynia the horticulturalist in Fawn. Harnna suspects that I got the affliction from the tattoo.
I take continuous damage as we head to Lydia's shop. She admits to the poisoning immediately and attacks, calling me the "pawn" of the "demon British." We kill her and find a poisoned dagger, 45 monetari, and some bandages on her body. 
I don't really care for him, either.
I don't know what the game intends, but if I'm poisoned, I'm not waiting 24 hours while the screen flashes red every 15 seconds, the Avatar says, "Ouch!," and Shamino keeps remarking that I look terrible. Iolo will have to wait. So will the stew. The map shows Fawn due north of Monitor, so that's where I head. It's 15:36 as we leave the gate. I'm hoping we can make it by nightfall.
We slaughter a deer on the way for dinner. North of the Knight's Test road, another road heads west from the main path. A sign reads: "TO FAWN." Not long after we turn down this path, we're ambushed by goblins, and two reloads convince me that I have to keep the Avatar out of combat because the poison has left him with single-digit hit points.
I'm not sure if I'm yowling because of the goblins or the poison.
We race past the goblin-occupied Fawn Tower and reach a white-brick paved bridge. A man approaches us. "There hath been trouble of late here in Fawn," he says. A second man, scarred and ugly, approaches from the south. He introduces himself as Ruggs, "a poor sailor whose visage offends the good people of Fawn." He's trying to get a message to his "lady love," who apparently lives in the city. Fortunately, his lady love is none other than the herbalist, Delphynia, so we agree to carry the message. "Thou mayest find her at the greenhouse," he says.
It's called a "restraining order" for a reason.
The guard demands my name and business, though none of the "business" options get at the real purpose of my visit. I tell him I'm "merely visiting." Just as we're about to pass him, he says, "We have enough to worry about what with storms, goblins, and Fellowship troublemakers." That naturally catches my attention. All he'll say is that someone from that organization has been captured by the captain of the guard.
On the other side of the drawbridge, I take another hit of poison and die.
I guess there's no avoiding those monks.
Time so far: 2 hours



  1. "The wall of Wolf Street." - nice caption, made me chuckle.

    1. Sometimes they just write themselves.

    2. Altogether probably the highest screenshot to landed joke ratio we've seen thus far on the blog, a record the Ultima series apparently lends itself to.

  2. Simon says that Batlin and Gwenno were in town recently. According to the intro, Batlin arrived a year ago, and Gwenno well before that. Also, if Gwenno was here recently, she had no way to get to Monk Isle because water traffic has stopped a long time ago, because of those storms. Am I missing something here, or is the timeline wonky?

    And yes, I share your disdain for meterless verse.

    1. There's a few cases like this in the early parts of the game that can only really be explained by Serpent Islanders having a very lax definition of "recent". I'm fairly sure there's at least one case later that is just 100% impossible to explain because it cites a specific scale of time. RPGs often have timeline problems but Serpent Isle is really hard to make pencil out.

      The timeline also gets kind of confused by the fact that there's more than one storyline going on at once. (ROT13: Gur Thneqvna naq Ongyva unir nofbyhgryl abguvat gb qb jvgu gur gryrcbeg fgbez pevfvf, vg'f whfg n uhtr pbvapvqrapr gung Ongyva gevrf gb gnxr nqinagntr bs.)

    2. Let's fan-theory the issue. Batlin teleported away from the Avatar during the final confrontation of U7P1, but he didn't go right to Serpent Isle. Instead, he teleported to another place in Britannia where he could hide out for a while. Lord British and/or the Avatar found out about this new hiding spot AFTER the events of UU2, just before U7P2, and Batlin again escaped, this time going to Serpent Isle. That's why the search of Batlin's belongings is recent during the prologue and why his travels on SI are also described as recent.

      Gwenno arrived a lot earlier--after all, there's a reference to her being on SI during the events of U7P1--which was before water traffic was stopped.

    3. I agree. No reason to assume Batlin teleported directly to Serpent Isle. Nobody else is able to just interdimensionally travel without entering some type of gate. And later someone specifically says that Gwenno was traveling in Serpent Isle before the storms became too dangerous to travel.

      The only real problem chronologically is that a lot of people talk about Gwenno and Batlin as if they came through town one after the other. Some of those cases are easier to explain than others.

  3. The "ball-clicker" thing is probably a Newton's cradle?

    1. Yes, thank you. I couldn't come up with that for the life of me.

      I swear I was watching a TV show or movie recently in which someone thought that the balls never stopped moving, and another character had to explain to him that that would be a perpetual-motion machine and thus defy the laws of physics. I can't remember the show/film, though.

  4. I actually loved U7's inventory system.

    I don't remember the Knighthood test to be that hard. I wonder whether I trained at least once before going there, or sneaked some item there, maybe pieces of armor "borrowed" from the townfolk that I would have totally given back if not for plot development ?

    Also, now I remember : I often say I learned English in Ultima 7, but Ultima 7 Black Gate HAD been translated in French (or rather, fake old French, with "Nenni" for "Non" for instance). On the other hand Serpent Isle never was and since I REALLY wanted to play it after The Black Gate I had play it in English

    1. I've never heard SI being described as particularly difficult in its opening stages but wow did I get slaughtered. I guess the dice just went badly for me. It's not like there were a lot of "tactics" I could have been using.

    2. Yeah when I played this and U7 I remember liking the inventory system too. It was a big step up from U6 in terms of realism and went along great with the mouse only interface of the games.

    3. I suspect that a lot of people who have played Serpent Isle in the last decade or so have used Exult, and my impression is that Exult combat is a lot less lethal.

      U7's inventory system is kind of neat but the game just has too many tiny little objects. The keyring helps. The engine is overall way too mouse-heavy, though.

    4. I always found very easy to die in the Knight’s Test, you cannot really heal or rest (there is a single health potion or something like that) and the enemies are strong for a single character.

      The bit when the Avatar gets poisoned is a nice twist, but having to go to Fawn that at that point is still unknown to find the herbs, with your health slowly draining is also kind of annoying.

      I’m also in the camp of those who liked the inventory system, very tactile and unique.

    5. I have fond memories of the inventory system, dunno how much of that was down to it being so much more interesting than anything else of the time, and indeed it's still more interesting than most RPG inventories.

  5. Cantra has some dialogue about Shmed watching her in a creepy way... Killing him probably stopped something far worse from happening.

    1. Ah, Cantra, the crush of 15--year-old me :-D
      no spoilers but wow, how I learned to hate that game ;-)

  6. By the way it was a particularly funny entry. I am usually team Harland, prefering little-known titles to game that has been covered pretty well, but this article was fun from the start to the end.

    Unrelated, V erzrzore V jnf chmmyrq ubj nebhaq unys bs Zbavgbe raqrq orvat n genvgbe sbe bar snpgvba be nabgure.

    1. I like Harland, but the idea that he might have a "team" is vaguely troubling.

    2. Mah peeps represent!

    3. I'm on team Misanthropy! Boo everyone!

  7. In terms of non-linearity, it's possible to get Iolo out of jail without doing the knight's test (ol cnlvat n fznyy svar gb fcrxgbe) meaning you could do Fawn and/or Moonshade before dealing with Monitor. I mean, I have never heard of anyone who actually DOES that, but it's possible.

    In his famous Let's Play, Nakar suggests it might even be possible to skip the knight's test entirely.

    1. No kidding? I must have missed that dialogue option. I almost want to restart and play it that way. Also, I read somewhere that if you kill Shmed when you first arrive at the KT, you can take everyone in with you.

    2. I am pretty sure you have to do the Knight Test before reaching Moonshade. Gur Cvxrzra lbh unir gb gnyx jvgu gb trg Unjx eryrnfrq bayl qrny jvgu lbh vs lbh ner n Xavtug.

    3. Serpent Isle relies on certain events and actions to trigger things. It can be frustrating at times; gurer'f n cbvag jurer lbh arrq gb hfr n ubhaq gb qrgrezvar jurer gb tb. Vs lbh QBA'G unir vg favss na vgrz naq cbvag gb jurer gb tb arkg, n dhrfg qbbe erznvaf pybfrq naq lbh pna'g nqinapr.

    4. Not sure about killing Shmed before the test, but iirc dealing with him is trivial: when he attacks you, just run to your companions, recruit them back, and let them slaughter Shmed

  8. The portraits looks inconsistent ?, Are you using exult?

    1. they look fine to me. Then again, it's been a while since I last played the game. Care to elaborate?

    2. I let this anonymous comment stand just in the hopes that he or she would return and explain how portraits can look "inconsistent." Inconsistent with what? Each other? Some other version of the game?

    3. Don't know what Anonymous is referring to, but one inconsistent thing about the portraits is the weird style mismatch of those little pixel tattoos that were added to the faces.

      Another thing that might be noticeable is that some portraits are very realistic and others less so, probably because not all portraits are based on photographs. (You could play a guessing game and then check the character on the Ultima Codex wiki to see whether the portrait is based on a model.)

  9. I've taught first-year composition for almost 20 years, and I've read verse by some students who were barely literate that's better than Gannt's. Are we sure he left Britannia voluntarily and wasn't exiled for refusing to stop writing?

    1. Eventually in the game you can find out what happened to Gannt: Va gur fyrrcvat ohyy vaa, ur nfxrq n cvengr gb chg bhg uvf sbhy-fzryyvat pvtnerggr, naq tbg fgnoorq gb qrngu bire gung. Uvf tenir vf va n erzbgr qhatrba abjurer arne gung vaa, naq gur cvengr gheaf bhg gb or n fbsgjner cvengr.

      I am not making this up.

    2. Gannt seems like a complicated figure. I'm having trouble keeping track of all the stuff he's involved with. I might need some kind of visual aid.

    3. A visual aid, like, say, a diagram? Or an infographics? Or, dare I say it out loud, a chart?

  10. Regarding the difficulty of the test: IIRC the fountains can be used for healing, and I think the game expects you to avoid fighting the cyclopes.

    Regarding the difficulty more generally: I remember this game being significantly more difficult than The Black Gate. Partly, this is due to the fact that magical equipment is rarer, your party is smaller, and training is less effective. But I think the enemy stats and abilities have been bumped up too. Goblins will slaughter you. Gazers might kill you in one hit. Take a wrong turn in a dungeon and you might take a death bolt to the face.

    1. Yeah, I think the expectation was you'd run past them, since they don't move fast. (The original game required a pretty hefty machine to run at the time, so the game lagged a bit.)

    2. And it is very easy to drive them to traps

    3. I agree that it’s harder than Black Gate, but the difficulty seems to spike at specific points rather than being consistent.

      In my last playthrough I had the Avatar with the AI disabled carrying a Firedoom staff for half of the game (until a found a fire sword), while the companions dealt with combat, because I was too lazy to use torches or light spells.

  11. The Knight's Test is hard, I remember dying about as many times as you did. I always thought the poison was a poor design choice as well, forcing you to rush off to a different city when you're not ready.

    Great entry though, I'm really loving your coverage of this game so far.

    P.S. when are you going to do the Silver Seed? There's a couple of quality of life items in it (primarily the key ring) which remove a few annoyances, and there's not really an obvious spot to jump in to the content.

    1. I always hated the poison too, but I wonder if the designers' intention wasn't to signal to players that they don't have to stay in Monitor until they've exhausted everything to do there. As others have noted, the game appears more linear than it is and this is the first place in the story where players have a bit of freedom as to their next steps. Maybe the intention was to get players to explore a little.

    2. Doing Silver Seed pre-spellbook would be a challenge...

    3. It is still worth it to go to the Silver Seed expansion area, getting the key ring, and immediately return to "regular" Serpent Isle

    4. IIRC after you die from poison once, the poison becomes much slower-acting. I think the design is indeed to force the player to see monk isle (which I find overly cryptic and rather pointless; but that's the design).

      Also IIRC, once you enter Silver Seed, you're stuck there until you complete it (or until you wait a veeeery long time). But I found it very doable even without a spellbook.

    5. Yeah I remembered the poison being much slower acting, and less of an immediate problem? I couldn't remember why though and I assumed that whatever the herbalist gives you should slow it down compared to normal poisoning? weird to have it tied to a death, but I suppose this is a series where death is not so much of a big deal.

    6. I don't even know what the Silver Seed is. I'm not sure I had the expansion when I played it in the 1990s. I imagine I'll play it when I reach it organically.

    7. Unfortunately while I like the expansion it isn't really organically integrated.

    8. Silver Seed completely breaks the game. One item (Gur evat bs erntragf) is an order of magnitude more powerful than the most powerful item in Forge of Virtue (Gur Oynpx Fjbeq). If not for the key ring, I would say save it until after you've made it to the north of the continent to start the expansion.

    9. I don't really agree with that.

      Gur evat vf fhcre pbairavrag, abg fhcre cbjreshy. Vg'f abg nf vs lbh pna'g trg gur erntragf sbe gur fcryyf vafgrnq, gubhtu fbzr ner nqzvggryl enere ba Frecrag Vfyr. Abe qb lbh arrq zntvp rabhtu sbe vg gb or gung hfrshy. Gur 30 va rnpu fgng (60 va fge) cyhf gur oynpx fjbeq jrer zber cbjreshy.

      On the timing of the addon, if you don't recall the plot of the game it might be a good idea to play it rather late in the main game. It doesn't spoil the main plot events, but it does reveal some important setting/background details before you would usually get to them.

    10. Regarding Erik's comment:

      Gur evat, jvgu gur snyfr pbva fcryy, yrgf lbh dhvpxl npdhver arneyl rirel fcryy va gur tnzr. Vg nyfb nyybjf lbh gb pnfg fcryyf gung erdhver ener erntragf yvxr avtugfunqr, znaqenxr, naq rfcrpvnyyl oybbqfcnja va cerggl zhpu nal rapbhagre fvapr erfgvat gb erpbire znan vf arneyl nyjnlf cbffvoyr. Lbh'er evtug gung gur fgng vapernfrf (cnegvphyneyl gur 60 fgeratgu) ner zber vzcnpgshy bire nyy, ohg V jnf whfg ersreevat gb gur vgrzf va Sbetr bs Iveghr. Sbe fgngf, Fvyire Frrq qbrf tvir lbh gur tnhagyrgf naq oryg gung ohzc fge naq qrk hc ol 10, VVEP.

    11. It's been a long time since I played SI, but I think you can't play the Silver Seed expansion until you're a bit further on the game. Need to trigger something first?

    12. I figured out how to get into the expansion by complete accident on my first play-through. I'm not even certain they ever tell you in game how to get there.

      Gur bayl guvat lbh unir gb qb vf qvr bapr. Ba lbhe svefg ivfvg gb Zbax Vfyr, Xneank tvirf lbh gur nzhyrg bs onynapr. Vs lbh hfr vg arne nal Frecrag Tngr lbh'er gryrcbegrq gb gur rkcnafvba nern. Gur rapbhagref gurer ner cerggl gbhtu, gubhtu, fb V glcvpnyyl jbhyq qb vg nsgre trggvat zl fcryyobbx va Zbbafunqr.

    13. I do believe the poison is a (poorly imnplemented) design choice to force you visit / intereact with Karnax at least once befor eleaving Monitor by dying. This confused me in my original play through near release as well, and after finally dying realised the posion slowed down a lot. The problem is they need to make the first course of posion way MORE deadly, so as the player you realise there is no hope at all of not succumbing the poision. As it is, it works so slowly you thgink maybe you can get through. A bit of text from the monks along the lines of "there is no way anyway could have survivied that... now it is much slower" etc would have helped too

  12. I always mean to catch up on the Ultima games so that I can read and participate when you start a new one. It drives me crazy that I can’t seem to get through them.

    I played (and finished!) Ultima III and played (and finished riiiiight up to the very last screen) Ultima IV back when they were released. I adored them. I mean I played Ultima IV for probably eight months straight and loved booting it up each time – it was a world that was easy to escape to, and not making any real progress in most sessions didn’t bother me in the least. So in 2011 when you indicated you were going to cover Ultima V I decided to revisit.

    I replayed all of Ultima IV and had almost as much fun as I’d had playing it in 1985. It was just great, and I finished it completely this time (spoiler: the answer is “Infinity”. Which I’d thought I’d typed back in ’85, but oh well). So when I turned to Ultima V I thought I was in for a treat.

    I can’t get into it at all, even though it is clearly a better game than IV in most respects. I've tried like ten times. I think the reason is pretty clear – these are truly ancient games, and the joys of III and IV are available to me because I played them way back when. But it is weird to experience such demonstrable proof of the power of nostalgia. It annoys me that it seems like I missed the boat on the rest of these.

    So, long story short: I skipped your coverage of V and VI because I wanted to play them unspoiled and THEN read about them. I think I’m throwing in the towel, and I’ll just follow along on VII. There probably is no way I’ll actually ever play it at this point.

    1. Older games aren't for everyone. No reason to beat yourself up about it. That's what my blog is for!

    2. (Filling you in on older games, not beating you up.)

    3. @Lasagna A few hints that might help at the beginning of U5:
      1. cynl nybar jvgubhg n cnegl - lbh qb abg arrq nalbar. Onggyrf jvyy fpnyr.
      2. gurer vf n zntvp nkr gb or sbhaq va n pregnva svtugre pvgl.
      3. syrrvat sebz pbzong unf nyzbfg ab rssrpg
      4. rkcynva pnfgyr oevgnaavn irel gubebhtuyl

  13. I remember the Knight's Test being really hard too, and I'm pretty sure the game intends for you to die and meet the monks there. They provide an infodump you don't really get elsewhere, and I think it also prepares you for the fact that death is pretty common and relentless in this game, so just accept it without needing to savescum. Theoretically you can call the monks to raise your fallen allies, but I remember dying much more frequently than Iolo, Shamino, or Dupre ever did. Even more than in Black Gate, I remember Iolo shooting me in the back a lot if I dared to give him his crossbow.

    The pacing of the game is pretty strange. I think at the beginning they are trying to steer you away from throwing yourself into fighting every goblin in the forest.

  14. I think you should treat death in this game the same way as in Planescape Torment. Sometimes you reload, but sometimes just let it happen and be okay with it. The game expects you to die at least once, that's probably why the difficulty is so hard this early.
    On another note, I really like how this game uses the Ultima 7 engine. The original didn't actually really use it's click and drag much in general gameplay, but this game is much more puzzle heavy. And it's these kinds of environmental puzzles that require you to use the "physics" of the game for solution.

    1. I think this is a good point. Traditionally RPGs have treated losing combat or dying as a final game-over state, but that's not always going to be the case with every game. So it's probably worth resisting the habit of reloading after every failure if the game is designed to integrate failure as part of the story.

      The big exception is if not reloading adds lots of tedious replay work to get back to the actual challenge. In that case I'd be more selective.

  15. AlphabeticalAnonymousFebruary 15, 2023 at 9:02 PM

    I may be a bit slow, but nobody else seems to have mentioned it -- is the title a reference to Griffin's book? I found it to be a fascinating read when exposed to it in college.

    1. I can't even figure out what you're talking about by Googling.

    2. Apparently either the children's book Good Wolf by Pamela Griffin, or the romance novel Mated Alpha Wolf by Alexa Griffin. I had not heard of either of them before today. Turns out there's also a book named Wolf Like Me, but that's a thriller by one Andy Fitz, and it doesn't seem to involve any griffins.

      The plot thickens...

    3. AlphabeticalAnonymousFebruary 16, 2023 at 5:49 PM

      Ha, sorry about that - I didn't mean to be obtuse.
      This was a fairly influential book in its time, but not so well-known these days:

    4. Oh, Black like me. I was looking for something to do with a wolf. No, it wasn't a reference to that. There was a recent TV series called "Wolf Like Me" that I must have had in mind.

    5. The TV series is the first thing to pop up when you search for the expression online.

      Hadn't heard of it myself. Thought Chet was going for some animal-related theme with his titles on the game so far (Serpent - mutton - wolf). Might be a coincidence, though.

  16. I'm enjoying reading this. I'm thinking of going into a playthrough of Serpent Isle.

    Ultima III was one of my favorite games of my pre-teen years, and it's still one I remember fondly because it was my jumping-on point for the series. But I wasn't able to play Ultima 7 or Serpent Isle until 20 years later because the computer I had at the time was nowhere near enough to run them. It is kind of interesting how the writers of the game sort of lampshade the complaints people were starting to have with Lord British and the Virtues by that point. Is the combat less chaotic In SI than in BG?

  17. The Knight's Test is far, far less lethal if you take one training session first. This is the reason the Avatar starts the game with 3 training points.


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